US's Childcare System Is Hurting Mothers: Here's How Each Candidate Wants to Fix It

Trash talk is in plentiful supply this election season, but real talk is a little less common. So it was exciting when both presidential candidates finally locked in on a serious issue for American families: The cost and quality of childcare in America. The fact that they're addressing it means we might get some actionable solutions, and that's good news for women and mothers everywhere.


As a whole, childcare is a complex problem that'll likely need complex solutions, so we broke down what the issue is and how each candidate proposes we address it.

The problem with child care

Americans families are being crushed by the cost of childcare. Like, really crushed: According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the cost of childcare in the US can average anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000, depending on your state. And that's just for one kid. But despite these outrageous numbers, 11 million kids under the age of 5 are in some sort of childcare situation, according to Child Care Aware.

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If you've got a kid, you already know the score. Every mother has to do an impossible math equation: Is what you can earn minus the cost of childcare enough to make it worth it to go to work? What about health insurance and benefits? Is it worth it to do a job you hate just to pay someone to do a crummy job of taking care of your babies?

In 2015, the EPI found that a minimum-wage worker in America will spend 30 percent of their income on childcare. And what does that buy you? Far too often it's low-quality care that parents aren't really happy with. 

Child Care Aware has the data to back up what American mothers already know: Our options for childcare are too expensive and largely poor quality -- and the result is everyone is unhappy and less productive.

Plus, in the long run, good childcare is key to children's early development. Good early development makes for better future enterprisers, a lower crime rate, and a better society in general, economically and otherwise.

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So why haven't we been able to pass legislation in Washington to help? Unfortunately, many Republicans view government intervention in family childcare as an overreach. Their ideal small government doesn't tell companies how to treat its employees or whether to offer paid family leave or childcare.

Trump's childcare prescription

So that's where we were. Then Donald Trump announced he was going to devote an entire speech to what childcare policy would look like under his Republican presidency. This gave us hope that we'd get a breakthrough on the issue.

Then Ivanka started to talk. Ivanka, whose personal brand includes the tagline "Women Who Work," was credited along with Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, with helping draft the proposals. Ivanka was set to introduce her father, and the beginning of her speech was okay -- it's when she called going to work a "luxury" that homegirl lost us.

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American mothers, by a large margin, aren't going to work because it's our passion project. We need an income to knock out the bills. According to a statistic Ivanka herself quoted in her speech at the Republican National Convention this year, 30 percent of American households with children have women as the primary breadwinner. It's not a choice for most mothers to go to work -- we have to work to feed our kids.

If the policy's chief advocate for mothers doesn't understand that working is often more of a necessity than a luxury, then how could the plan begin to address the real challenges we face?

Well, guess what: It doesn't.

According to his fact sheet, here's what Trump proposes in his childcare policy

  • 6 weeks of paid maternity leave, not transferable to fathers
  • Set up Dependent Care Savings Accounts, like Health Savings Accounts, that help families pay for childcare
  • A tax deduction, which would be capped at the state average cost of care
  • Less regulation on childcare to "promote new family-based and community-based solutions, and also add incentives for employers to provide childcare at the workplace"

To be totally fair, these policies are a great deal better than anything we would have gotten out of candidates Cruz or Rubio -- both of whom are more traditional small-government conservatives. But Trump's policies miss a few big things, proving he doesn't have a good grasp on which issues real working American families face:

  1. It's "family" leave, not "maternity" leave
    Families aren't like they were 50 years ago. Moms and dads and aunties and babysitters and all sorts of arrangements for child-rearing are common. To offer only maternity leave suggests fathers aren't -- or shouldn't -- be involved in raising kids. It also singles out mothers at work, which could lead to hiring discrimination against women. Oh, and as Jeremy Diamond, a CNN reporter, pointed out in this tweet, Trump isn't actually providing full paid leave.
  2. Quality of care matters
    Kids are getting injured and dying in childcare centers all the time, and Trump's plan does nothing to address it. In fact, it actually wants to remove regulations, making it easier for unqualified, unlicensed providers to set up shop, earn a quick buck, and take advantage of desperate parents with little other options. 

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  3. Tax deduction vs. credit
    The problem with the tax credit versus the tax deduction Trump proposes is this: The deduction only goes toward the taxes you already owe the government. That means low wage earners won't see many benefits while higher income households, which pay more taxes, will get more. A tax credit, on the other hand, can earn low earners a refund, which they could use to defray the cost of paying for child care.  

The icing on the cake is that Trump actually said, "Hillary Clinton does not have a plan to provide relief to most Americans faced with high childcare costs. She claims she wants to cap a family's childcare expense at 10 percent of income, but provides no details."

Clinton's childcare plan

But that's just not true. Like, it's just a lie. In May, the Washington Post used the words "enormous ambition" to describe a detailed childcare plan that Clinton released that includes, yes, a cap on costs at 10 percent of a family's household income. It also outlines a plan to pay childcare workers more in an effort to improve the quality and professionalism of childcare facilities and workers.

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According to her plan, a president Clinton would:

    • Provide universal preschool for all 4-year-olds within 10 years of her presidency
    • Cap the cost of childcare at 10 percent of household income, which she says she will pay for with federal government investment in "childcare subsidies and tax relief to working families"
    • Launch the RAISE initiative so states will pay childcare providers a living wage
    • Double the current Head Start investment
    • Expand programs that give new mothers access to home visits from nurses and social workers
    • Award student scholarships to offset the cost of childcare
    • Increase access to childcare on college campuses

Clinton has been working on issues with women and kids over her entire career. For Trump to try to take Clinton to task for a lack of depth on this issue in particular is remarkable -- she started her career with the Children's Defense Fund, is famous for her work fighting for women's rights and children's healthcare, and is one of the highest-profile working mothers ever.

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Trump, for his part, is just trying to win over American women. But still -- regardless of the motivation, the fact that he's trying to talk about the issue of childcare is a step in the right direction ... even if it's hard not to think back to his misogynistic "greatest hits." But when it comes to working American mothers, we need all the help we can get.

So let's take the victory. Both major political parties in America agree childcare in our country needs a serious overhaul. At this point, it's up to voters to choose which plan we think will work best for our families.


Images via A. Ariani/Splash News; Jennifer Mitchell/Splash News

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