Gender equality is certainly not a new topic both in the United States and around the world as women have been fighting for their rights for centuries. There appears, however, to be new momentum building up in US politics that seeks to establish equality in the work place and shed light on the importance of childcare.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Doris Matsui, and others announced a new Women's Economic Agenda last week that will be built on three key pillars: 1) equal pay for equal work, 2) work-family balance, including paid sick leave and a livable minimum wage, and 3) access to quality, affordable child care.
President Obama and Democrats in Congress have continued to champion issues that affect women including equal pay and minimum wage. Child care has recently received increased attention as the President called for increased investment in early learning and care in this year's State of the Union address and parents and providers are working together to address severe shortages in child care.
Since women are still considered the primary caretakers of their children, it is essential that we realize the connection between equality, child care, and the economy. The reality of a working mother is gaining popularity in the media and has seen more support, especially from men, as we come to realize that without affordable, accessible child care, the next generation will suffer and gains in workplace equity won't be realized by mothers who can't return to work in the first place.
There is a substantial amount of research that shows that 90 percent of brain development occurs in the first five years of a child's life. Thus, the key to education reform is access to high quality child care and early learning to adequately prepare the next generation to be successful leaders that are not held back by their gender.
There is not only a moral justification of striving for equality and investing in child care, but also an economic gain that will benefit everyone. Nobel-prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman concluded that investing in young children is America's best economic stimulus package and the Bay Area Council, which represents businesses like Kaiser, AT&T, PG&E, seeks future innovators and talent as it looks forward to stable workplaces and a 21st century workforce with the skills and smarts to grow and compete in the global economy.
Unfortunately, a large portion of the action on child care falls to the states, which have suffered deficits and budget cuts in the wake of the recession, and although 27 governors used their 2013 State of the State speeches to call for increased investment, certain states that should be ahead are falling behind.
Mary Kay Henry believes that California, as our most populous state, should be leading the way since “it is where a strong coalition of labor and women's groups helped pass the first-of-its-kind paid family leave bill in 2002”. However, even as California now enjoys a multi-billion dollar surplus, “a proposal to reinvest $257 million in child care was sharply curtailed as the final deal reached Governor Brown's desk. In the last four years, Sacramento has cut more than a billion dollars from early education, getting failing marks in nationwide school readiness studies, and ranking 41st in overall children's health and wellness.”
It is time that we fully dedicate ourselves to finally achieving equality in the work place and improving our child care system that not only hurts the future generation, but continues to discriminate against mothers. As we move forward, it is critical that we understand that issues such as paid medical leave, minimum wage, and child care are not issues that affect one single gender or generation.