For all our talk about family values, the U.S. is actually the worst place to raise a family in the developed world. Anne-Marie Slaughter and Katie Hamm join Nick and Jessyn to explain how our family policies got stuck in the last century, and what we should do about it.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is the President and CEO of New America, a think and action tank dedicated to renewing America in the Digital Age. She is also a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and from 2009-2011 she served as director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State—the first woman to hold that position.
Katie Hamm is the Vice President for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress, where she leads CAP’s work on policies impacting young children from birth to five.
Kristine Reeves is a member of the Washington House of Representatives representing the 30th legislative district. She is also the Director of Economic Development for the Military and Defense sector for the state of Washington.
Nick Hanauer: 00:04 Hey Pitchfork Economics listeners, we’ve been doing this podcast for a while now and it must be true that some of the stuff we’ve been talking about made no sense, or that you had questions about, so we’re doing an AMA episode when we’ll take any question you have on economics. And what we want to do is rather than have you email them in, we want you to leave a voicemail in a special inbox because that’ll make the episode so much more fun and interesting, so all you need to do is call 731-388-9334, leave your questions. Super excited to hear what you’re thinking, what your questions are, want to know what’s landing and what makes no sense. So again if you’re interested, give us a call 731-388-9334. Thanks again for participating.
Katie Hamm: 01:02 We live in a country where the vast majority of young children have all available parents working.
Kristine Reeves: 01:08 My husband and I last year alone paid more than $35,000 in child care cost for our two kids.
Nick Hanauer: 01:13 One third of unemployed women in the U.S. left the workforce because of caregiving responsibilities.
Anne-Marie S.: 01:19 We’re not where we should be because society has not made nearly the changes that society needs to make.
Nick Hanauer: 01:26 Virtually all of our peer nations handle this better than we do.
Jessyn Farrell: 01:31 If people are, particularly women, are stepping out of the workforce, that’s money that’s not being spent in local communities.
Announcer 1: 01:44 From the offices of Civic Ventures in downtown Seattle, this is Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer. A conversation about how capitalism actually works.
Nick Hanauer: 02:04 I’m Nick Hanauer, founder of Civic Ventures.
Jessyn Farrell: 02:06 And I’m Jessyn Farrell senior vice president at Civic Ventures and mother of three kids.
Nick Hanauer: 02:15 So today, we’re going to talk about something that affects really every single person in this country, and that is that it’s actually really, really hard to have a family in the United States. That our policy framework is super unfriendly to things like parental leave, child care, flexible scheduling, and so on and so forth. In fact of all the sort of developed nations, we probably have the worst set of policies that are available, which frames up the question for us why does the U.S. hate families?
Jessyn Farrell: 02:48 Yeah, because it really seems like it does when you think about how our policies impact families every single day, it is really hard on people. Whether you are pregnant and needing to just get some time off to be able to go to your prenatal appointment, or even needing to have a glass of water if you might be a pregnant check out worker at a supermarket. We don’t do the prenatal piece well and then that kind of follows all the way through early childhood care up on through policies, even like things ranging from land use. You might spend a lot of time commuting to your job, that’s time away from your family. We do not infuse a family friendly attitude into our policies at all in the country.
Nick Hanauer: 03:28 And at the core of this problem has been this 40-year neoliberalism obsession with extracting as much of the rents in the economy available to big corporations and rich people. And as a consequence, we’ve done two things, we have flatlined wages for workers, which has made costs essentially on a relative basis go up. It’s just harder to afford things. But one of the other really insidious things that that process has done is it has forced all families essentially to be two earner families rather than one earner families, and of course if both people are working, you’re just going to need more child care. And so it’s been this really terrible double whammy for families who earn less on a relative basis and work more.
Jessyn Farrell: 04:20 Yeah, that’s right. And it plays out across the workforce. When I had my second child, I worked at a transit agency. So you had a workforce that had bus drivers, you had more traditional white-collar workers. There was a whole range of job functions at that agency, and the challenges for people with children were really tough. What if you are a breastfeeding mother and having to drive a bus? The agency did not have a way of managing that. But even if you were a breastfeeding mother at a desk job, there was no facility to pump. And then you get into the childcare cost and the dearth of childcare, and it just becomes really hard.
Nick Hanauer: 04:58 Yeah. So Jessyn, I’m a little out of date my kids are older now. Tell me a little bit about how much you and folks around town are paying for childcare.
Jessyn Farrell: 05:07 So it’s insanely expensive. If you have your infant in a full-time childcare center, that’s about $18,000 a year.
Nick Hanauer: 05:15 Wow. If you’re a family of four in Seattle and you have two young kids and you’re earning $80,000 a year, your child care costs border on 50% of your income.
Jessyn Farrell: 05:31 Yeah.
Nick Hanauer: 05:31 And the costs, as I understand it, are after tax.
Jessyn Farrell: 05:37 Right.
Nick Hanauer: 05:37 And you’re income is pre-tax right?
Jessyn Farrell: 05:37 That’s right. Exactly.
Nick Hanauer: 05:38 So it’s probably every bit 50% of your income. That’s just the price to go to work.
Jessyn Farrell: 05:45 Exactly. So the price to go to work is really high. That doesn’t even get into the costs associated with the time. You may not have child care anywhere near where you live because there’s such a child care capacity crisis in urban areas, but also in rural areas. And you know that doesn’t even figure into all the other high cost associated with living in a city like Seattle related to housing and other things.
Jessyn Farrell: 06:10 So the burdens on families are intense, and it forces some families where there’s a choice to have to decide maybe one parent isn’t even going to participate in the workforce, and then that gets at the longer term economic stability of the family, the ability of women to earn on par with their male counterparts because maybe they’re taking that time out because it just doesn’t pencil out in the near-term. So this is something that we really have to figure out because people are really having to make tough and almost impossible economic choices just to show up at work everyday.
Nick Hanauer: 06:42 Yeah. And there’s this amazing statistic, which is that one third of unemployed women in the U.S. left of workforce because of caregiving responsibilities. And as was discussed in our recent pay equity episode, having kids is one of the reasons women don’t earn as much as men and aren’t in those high paying and executive level positions in our society and economy because let’s face it, the responsibilities and burdens of motherhood are huge. It has an enormous effect on the broader economy, not to mention the families themselves-
Jessyn Farrell: 07:15 Their own earning. I mean you know and what that really means then is that when you’re stepping out of the workforce, you are losing out on actual wages and benefits over the course of your lifetime. And you know that’s also saying that our economy and businesses are also losing out on the productivity of employees, on issues related to absenteeism. In fact, U.S. businesses lose approximately $4.4 billion annually because of child care issues and not being able to find adequate childcare.
Nick Hanauer: 07:48 Yeah. One of the things that people often pushback on is that this is too expensive or it’s impossible or whatever it is, but just to be clear, virtually all of our peer nations handle this better than we do, and none of them have turned into poverty-stricken hellholes.
Jessyn Farrell: 08:04 Yeah.
Nick Hanauer: 08:05 You know like all of Western Europe, the Scandinavian countries, Canada, New Zealand, like all of these countries have much better policies, much more generous policies than we have. And as far as I can tell the only difference is that people are just generally happier. It’s just a better system.
Jessyn Farrell: 08:24 And of course, as we know, that when you have money in your pocket, when families have more income, they spend it right in their local communities.
Nick Hanauer: 08:31 So Jessyn today, we’re going to talk about child care and we have a fun guest.
Jessyn Farrell: 08:36 Yeah. This is really exciting. We have Katie Hamm who, is the vice president of Early Childhood Policy at Center for American Progress, where she leads CAP’s work on policies impacting young children from birth to 5.
Nick Hanauer: 08:54 Hey.
Katie Hamm: 08:55 Hi.
Nick Hanauer: 08:56 It’s Nick Hanauer here. Thank you so much for joining us.
Katie Hamm: 09:00 Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Jessyn Farrell: 09:01 So for someone who has maybe never given a lot of though to this issue, tell us why early learning and childcare matter. Give us the elevator speech.
Katie Hamm: 09:13 Sure. So we live in a country where the vast majority of young children have all available parents working, which means that they are going to be spending a significant amount of time in the care of somebody other than their parent. And the child care that we have to support families in this country is really lacking. We have kind of his arbitrary idea that education starts when children are 5 or 6, and it’s just not true. We now have decades of brain development science that shows that those early years are actually when children’s brains are developing and informing the foundation that’s going to set them up for success in life or not. So we really need to be working much earlier and we need to be looking at the quality of those experiences that children have, especially when they’re in the care of somebody other than their parent.
Nick Hanauer: 10:03 It strikes me Katie that one of the things that makes this issue so much more pressing than it was say 40 years ago, at the dawn of the neoliberal era is that in the ’60s and ’70s, one person in a family could have a job and the salary that they brought home would sustain the family. And so that usually meant that the mother would be able to stay home and take care of the kids and take up a lot of that work and that now you really can’t afford to do that. That now we have an economy where in order to sustain a middle class life in general, both people have to work. And obviously, that’s you know left little kids at home alone.
Katie Hamm: 10:53 Yeah. I mean I think that the economic conditions that families are facing have shifted for sure. I think it’s important in this conversation too that we think about women of color, who have been in the workforce for a long time. And it’s interesting that you bring up the 1970s because the U.S. actually got really really close to universal childcare in the 1970s.
Katie Hamm: 11:17 There was a universal child care bill that passed Congress, that President Nixon was expected to sign, and Pat Buchanan, he was an advisor at the time, convinced him that this was a communist plan and that he should veto it. In the end, he vetoed it. He linked childcare to communism, and we’re just kind of now able to have another big conversation about what should we do to solve the child care crisis.
Jessyn Farrell: 11:47 If you could change things in the system right now, what would you do? I mean I know that from having kids myself, the issue of child care deserts, it’s really often workers aren’t compensated at the right level living wage. There’s the issues of quality. What would you change? Where would you start?
Katie Hamm: 12:09 So I think I’d start by rethinking about how we invest in young children and not making that really false distinction between K-12 education and early childhood education. So I would think about investing the same amount of money for young children and so having a mechanism in place that allows a public investment in kids birth to five, funds a lot of different options for parents, and parents want a home-based childcare program, some parents want a center-based program.
Katie Hamm: 12:45 And I think when you do that and you invest in quality standards in place and you improve the wages of the workers. As you noted, the average wage for a child care educator in this country is $10 an hour. If you do those things, if you have the financing in place, if you address the quality, if you address the wages, then you can build supply, and you can get to a place where it’s not unaffordable, it’s considered a public good like other services that are available to families like K-12 education. So I that’s where I would start.
Nick Hanauer: 13:25 Katie, do you have a sense for how much … Have you guys done an analysis of how much it would cost to enact a robust federal child care program?
Katie Hamm: 13:36 So I haven’t done that research, but the National Academy of Sciences has and their estimate is that to have a high quality child care program in this country for kids birth to 5, we would need a $140 billion per year. That’s not necessarily all public funding. You would have potentially parents paying a co-payment, you would have state and local resources going to it, but that’s the price tag. It’s not cheap.
Nick Hanauer: 14:02 Well, it is cheap compared to what we spend annually on stock buybacks.
Katie Hamm: 14:07 Absolutely.
Jessyn Farrell: 14:08 Right. The prison industrial complex and this stuff pays for itself, right?
Nick Hanauer: 14:13 Right.
Jessyn Farrell: 14:13 So maybe we don’t need to obsess about how much it cost because we know, you mentioned this that investments early on are the ones that pay off the most as kids get older. So I think you make really a great point around how we start to think of this as just part of our education system. What’s controversial about that? That seems to me to be so pragmatic. What are some of the obstacles?
Katie Hamm: 14:37 You know I think when we talk to policymakers about this issue, first of all, I will say that there is growing support and growing recognition across political parties. This is an issue. This is something that families can’t just be expected to handle on their own, that it’s generating inequality before kids even start kindergarten. The things that we hear about the most are generally around cost. I think of that that argument from the 1970s that this is an affront to the family. That’s still alive today. There is still an undercurrent sometimes of well, mom should be home, or this isn’t the role of government. But I do think that’s changing. I think even compared to 10 years ago, we’re hearing is less and less.
Jessyn Farrell: 15:24 And why do you think is the narrative replacement? If we all agree that those two stories are old and should be discarded, what do you think is the narrative replacement? How should we be talking about this?
Katie Hamm: 15:36 I think it’s about economic policy. If we all want to have an economy that’s strong and thriving, and we want parents and families to be economically secure, and we want people to be able to have children and raise them to be successful citizens, that means we have to start investing in children from their earliest days and years. We have a mountain of evidence that when you invest in early childhood programs, more parents are able to work and children enter school ready to learn. And so it’s a two-fer, you can both grow the economy today and you can set your community, your state, your country up for economic success in the future and having a really robust workforce in the future.
Nick Hanauer: 16:27 Interesting. So tell us a little bit about what’s happening in our peer countries. You know there are countries that have these systems in place to a greater or lesser degree, that ideally we could learn from. Who do you look to or what do you look to as examples of stuff that’s working?
Katie Hamm: 16:47 Yes. So you know Scandinavian countries in Western Europe, not surprisingly made some of these investments long ago and don’t differentiate between elementary school and early childhood. They have robust family leave plans that allow parents to stay home when their children are young. And then they have early education starting 2, 3, sometimes younger. And even countries that have smaller economies like in South America or in some Asian countries, they are starting to invest in early childhood in a really robust way.
Katie Hamm: 17:33 Quebec has a universal child care program that provides subsidy to families to help them afford child care that they’ve had for decades. So there’s no shortage of models out there when it comes to kind of developing a robust early childhood program.
Katie Hamm: 17:52 We have some states that have led the way on pre-K. So you have states like Georgia and Oklahoma that serve most of their four year olds in a public pre-K program. And then you have cities like D.C. in New York also have robust preschool program. So we’re getting there on early education. I don’t think we have a state yet that kind of has the full birth to five piece and it’s parents with infants and toddlers that often struggle the most to find child care and to pay for it. So we still have a ways to go.
Jessyn Farrell: 18:23 You know one of the things I thought you might talk about is the U.S. military system and the child care that we do. So in some ways, we have a great model in the U.S. Can you talk a little bit about what happens with the military and how child care is provided?
Katie Hamm: 18:37 Yeah. That’s a great point. I’m glad you brought that up. So the U.S. military has a child care program. In the 1990s, basically the lack of child care support in the military was considered a national security threat. And so they built a program that would support family and allow parents to work. All parents pay on a sliding scale. They have quality standards that everybody has to meet. They have credentials that early educators attain so that they learn the skills that it takes to work with young children. Parents [inaudible 00:19:12] home based program centers, they have resources and lending libraries that providers can use. And I think people are pretty happy with it. I think the parents are happy, I think the educators are generally pretty happy in that system. So it exists across the country on military bases and it’s just something that can be done.
Nick Hanauer: 19:34 Would it be plausible to just take the military system and extend it to the rest of the country?
Katie Hamm: 19:39 You know I think that that model and kind of principles that guide it are definitely scalable. I think when it comes to oversight and some of the infrastructure that you need to get there, we have some work to do on that, but I think the principle of limiting what families pay, putting quality standards in place and increasing wages and putting everybody kind of on a wage scale is certainly doable.
Jessyn Farrell: 20:05 Yeah. It sure seems like it. We do it and it’s just a matter of of obviously figuring out how to make it work across the country. One of the things that I think is really interesting is there are some really great things that work in the United States, particularly I think the flexibility that there are lots of different kinds of child care options. There’s the issue of culturally appropriate child care that’s provided, particularly in immigrant communities. And so I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit about that, and what might happen to those kinds of programs if we were to implement universal public child care.
Katie Hamm: 20:44 Yeah. So you know you’re right, we do have a lot of different programs in this country and parents kind of … They have options and they don’t. I think like a robust child care system doesn’t leave people behind who are currently providing child care. And I think that’s why it’s really important when you lay out a vision for child care, if you’re asking for higher quality standards, for more credentials that there are resources and supports to help people get there. A lot of child care providers right now are doing the best they can with very few resources. It’s what’s really important.
Katie Hamm: 21:22 We have a really diverse early childhood workforce that reflects the diversity of young children in this country who are not majority white. And so that’s a real strength of the early child system. The diversity, the languages, racial diversity that we have in the early childhood system. And so we want to think about how do we move everyone forward towards more quality, towards more options and sustainability without losing the great diversity that they bring to the table. And I think that comes through being really intentional about before you ask people to meet standards or before you ask them to get that degree or credential, you need to provide scholarships, tuition assistance, paid release time, resources to help them go through different processes that can build quality in their programs.
Jessyn Farrell: 22:14 So if you could wave a wand and make one big change first, what would you do?
Katie Hamm: 22:20 I would significantly increase the wages so that we can retain a very highly qualified and stable early childhood workforce. The biggest predictor of quality in a childcare setting is that interaction between a child and an adult, and when we pay people sub poverty wages, it’s just all that more challenging to get to high quality. So that’s what I’d do.
Nick Hanauer: 22:48 Yeah. That’s interesting.
Jessyn Farrell: 22:48 Yeah. That sounds like a good first step.
Nick Hanauer: 22:50 Yeah. Cool. Thank you so much for joining us Katie.
Katie Hamm: 22:54 Okay. Thank you. Bye.
Nick Hanauer: 22:55 Okay. Take care.
Sara Lee B.: 23:03 It’s one thing to talk about what you can do in the face of something as large as how the American economy hates families, but it’s another thing to actually work on fixing that.
Sara Lee B.: 23:14 Hi, my name is Sara Lee [Bovich 00:23:15] and I’m a producer here on Pitchfork Economics. And I got the chance to sit down and talk to Washington state representative Christine Reeves, who is actively working on legislation that could really have a positive impact on the kind of issues that we talk about when we talk about how America hates families.
Kristine Reeves: 23:36 Hi Sara, how are you?
Sara Lee B.: 23:37 Good. How are you?
Kristine Reeves: 23:37 Christine Reeves. Nice to meet you. Come on in. Have a seat.
Sara Lee B.: 23:40 We know that most of the remaining gender pay gap is created when women have children and leave the workforce, either temporarily or permanently. How can state or federal policies helped to make the labor force more fair for working moms and for parents in general?
Kristine Reeves: 23:55 Well, that’s a loaded question, but I think there’s a lot of different ways that we can do that. I’m a working mom myself. I have a four-year-old and a six-year-old, and like a lot of working families, my husband and I are very fortunate that we have a dual income, but we had to have that conversation when are kids came. And surprisingly I’m actually the primary income earner in my family and so the conversation wasn’t about whether or not I would leave the workforce, it was about whether or not my husband would leave the workforce. Because essentially his salary was the full cast of our child care bill. And I think a lot of folks are having those conversations. Unfortunately, disproportionately that conversation usually impacts moms over dads. And so that means that we’re losing more women in the workforce who choose to stay home with their kids because the balancing of the budget just doesn’t work out.
Kristine Reeves: 24:37 There’s a lot of ways that we can be helpful. So we know right now that child care cost actually exceed the cost of sending your kids to college in a lot of places. And so we’ve got to figure out how to kind of wrap all of these things together in a way, that make sure that women aren’t being disproportionately impacted when we’re asking folks to think about their future and how we invest in our kids.
Kristine Reeves: 24:58 So obviously, I think a lot of people assume that because I’m a working mom and have kids of my own, that this really came up. Because my husband and I last year alone, paid more than $35,000 in child care cost for our two kids, which is crazy when you think about it, right? That’s more than a third of my income going to that one thing. And when you have a mortgage payment and a car payment. Like a lot of families, I have $180,000 in student loan debt that I’m also trying to pay off. It gets challenging to really make ends meet.
Sara Lee B.: 25:25 It does lead to like an interesting dichotomy of child care is so expensive and yet child care providers, the majority of whom are women, are so poorly paid. How do you find that balance of creating child care that is affordable, but still respecting and creating a good space for the people who provide that child care?
Kristine Reeves: 25:44 I think that’s an excellent question and I come to find out that early childhood educators, child care providers are actually representative of the communities in which they work. So it’s not just women, but it’s women of color, it’s new Americans of different backgrounds with multiple language sets. And we know that 90% of kid’s brain development happens in the age of 0 to 5. And so when we think about how we’ve just made historic investments in our K through 12 systems, $7.5 billion last year, but we know that 47% of our kids aren’t coming to school kindergarten ready. And that are kindergarten classrooms don’t necessarily always reflect the communities in which folks are living.
Kristine Reeves: 26:22 We know that we’ve got to figure out how to replicate the model in early learning and spread that across the entire education system. But to your point, the challenge is how you get high quality early childhood educators when some of them are being paid less than dog groomers in our state. So for me, it’s about how do we make sure that we’re actually compensating teachers to the standards that we’re asking them to have and we’ve got a lot of standards in Washington around early childhood education. So it’s how are we making sure that those wages actually demonstrate the value that we’ve asked these early childhood educators to have, but also again at the end of the day, it’s how do we make sure that they can feed their families too, that they can put a roof over their head. Especially when we’re asking them to take care of our kids. We want them to also be able to take care of their kids. And so part of this cost model conversation has to be about how we make sure we were finding balance in that budget question I guess.
Sara Lee B.: 27:10 So let’s go into a little bit of the specifics of what you’ve been working on. What is the Mom Agenda?
Kristine Reeves: 27:16 Yeah. So the Working Moms Agenda actually has a couple different pieces of legislation attached to it. So some of the bigger items on the agenda focus on sales tax exemptions. So one sales tax exemption for diapers. As you know, if you’ve had kids, diapers are fairly expensive as it is. It’s not something that … It’s not luxury. I can’t just let my kid walk around without a diaper on. If your kid is in childcare, you don’t have an option to send them to school with cloth diapers. You have to use disposable diapers and this was just one way, as you’re thinking about how you balance your family’s budget, that we thought we might be able to shave off some cost savings for for working families.
Kristine Reeves: 27:54 The second item on the agenda is what we call the tampon tax. It’s really around taking the sales tax off feminine hygiene or menstrual products, and making sure that those are a little bit more affordable. Again, similar concept around diapers. These are not luxury items. These aren’t things that I can go through my family budget and say, “I’m just going to live without that for a month.” So looking at ways that again, we could kind of try to find a little bit of cost savings in a family’s budget.
Kristine Reeves: 28:18 We also have a big bill that’s actually on the House floor calendar around diaper changing stations. My husband actually brought this issue up and talked to a lot of working dads that when you go out to spend time with your family in public places and restaurants in particular, women’s restrooms might have diaper changing stations, but you always find that the guys’ rooms don’t. And so my husband was super frustrated that he couldn’t contribute to the family conversation and then I ended up doing kind of the burden of diaper changing. And so introduce a bill to make sure that restaurants who are serving children’s menus are complying and making sure that they’re including diaper changing stations in all of their restrooms.
Kristine Reeves: 28:55 And then the biggest one and this is my favorite one to talk about, is how we make child care more accessible and affordable for working families. And so we’ve actually introduced a series of bills, but the bill that just passed House Bill 1344, it’s known as the Washington Child Care Access Now Act sets a very bold vision for the state of Washington to look at how we would cap child care expenses at 7% of a family’s income. It looks at how he would make sure that were compensating that early education workforce that the rate that they actually deserve commensurate with their education. And then looks at making sure that we’re expanding facility access while ensuring quality of care.
Kristine Reeves: 29:29 So it’s a bold vision for the state of Washington. It’s something that I’m really proud of the work that our business partners, our business community have come to the table over the last year around the child’s care collaborative task force. It’s a bill that we passed last year to bring the business community to table to say, “Hey guys, you’ve been missing from this conversation.” Under no faults of their own, but we wanted to make sure that they got an invite and we started thinking strategically about how businesses can also help us solve this problem. Because this is no longer just a mom issue, this is an economy issue, this is a working families issue, and this is an employer issue. And so I’m really excited. It’s a pretty big bold agenda, but I think it’s time for us to have a conversation around how working moms deserve a little bit of attention on some of the policies that we do down here.
Sara Lee B.: 30:09 Have you gotten any pushback on this bill? I feel like all of those should be things that everyone supports.
Kristine Reeves: 30:15 I wouldn’t say pushback is the right word, but I think there’s rightly so questions and comments. It seems rather obvious to those of us who have kids and childcare, and those of us who are raising families that these seem like good common sense bills. But what I would tell you is there’s definitely a conversation about, is this government overreach? Is this taking away folks’ personal accountability and responsibility for their own budgets? In the childcare conversation, there’s definitely questions about whether or not the state has over regulated the market and if that’s part of the reason that we’re challenged with the supply and demand issue. And it’s a different conversation than we’ve had in Olympia.
Kristine Reeves: 30:50 Since getting here, we’ve really change the conversation from how we’re focusing on just the early learning curriculum and the things we’re teaching our kids and to more of a comprehensive systems approach around the fact that child care really is early learning, and if the child care system isn’t working, then early learning, we’re not getting anybody the early learning that they need. And again, it goes back to that, then we’re missing 47% of our youngest learners aren’t coming to school kindergarten ready.
Kristine Reeves: 31:15 I mean I don’t know if you know this, but our state budget. About 53% of our state’s budget goes to K through 12 education, about 15% of it goes to higher education opportunities, only 1.8% of our state budget goes to early childhood education. And yet, we know that 90% of a kid’s brain development happens in 0 to 5. So we want to talk about things like closing the opportunity gap and making sure that the children farthest from opportunity get best start. This is one of the ways that we’re going to know that we’ve hit it, if you will, when those kids are actually showing up to school ready to learn.
Nick Hanauer: 31:48 For sure we have a lot to do, but folks like Representative Reeves, at least in Washington state, are clearly making these issues a priority and we have to support her here and the legislation she’s working on at the state level. And folks should support and states across the country similar legislation to hopefully make some of this happen around the country.
Jessyn Farrell: 32:12 We talked to Anne-Marie Slaughter, who is the president and CEO of New America. She was formerly the first female director of policy planning at the State Department under Secretary Clinton. And after her 2012 article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All became the most read article in the history of the Atlantic, she’s emerged as an advocate for family-friendly policies.
Nick Hanauer: 32:37 You had to either, I’m not sure if it’s good fortune or bad fortune to write the most read article in the Atlantic’s history, wasn’t it? Why Women Still Can’t Have It All kicked up quite a thing at the time, I remember reading it. So let’s start by asking the question, can women have it all now yet?
Anne-Marie S.: 33:02 No, but I would say nobody can have it all. It’s funny that article was entitled, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All and it was actually intended to say, we’re not where we should be because society has not made nearly the changes that society needs to make. And of course, that nuance was lost on most of the audience. And so I now get introduced as the woman who thinks women can’t have it all. And I think you know we need massive social change so that all of us, men and women, can have the joys of our families, whether constructed or biological or our communities and fulfilling work. And that’s really what what it means, but we’re a long way from that for both sexes.
Anne-Marie S.: 33:52 You know in the first place I think we are still making economic policy as if we were in the 1950s. We are still assuming that there is a person, a woman at home to do all the hard work of making a home caring for children, caring for elders, doing the domestic side of what every person in the workforce needs. And that was never true for working class women, women of color, but it was true for middle class and upper middle class white women in the 1950s. We are now almost at 2020. The only way that middle class families have stayed afloat has been to send women into the workforce, which has been good for lots of women, but it has made family finances even more precarious because there isn’t a safety net now if something happens to either parent. And we don’t have childcare, we don’t have family leave, we don’t have elder care family accounts, any of the things that clearly a society that thought, well everybody in this society is producing income, working for income some part of the time, clearly they also … We have to have a system of care, that kind of work that generally doesn’t get paid.
Jessyn Farrell: 35:21 You know I read your article in 2012. I was running for office the very first time. I had a two-year-old in a four-year-old and as we were doorbelling my neighborhood, I would often get the question, “Well, who’s going to take care of your kids when you’re down in Olympia in the legislature?” Recognizing of course that my male colleagues were probably not getting that question. And so you make this great point around caregiving and how that has to become something that is valued both for men and women, right? I think that’s part of the key here. We named this episode, Why Does the U.S. Hate Families, but at the same time so much of this still is about women. Do you think that anything has changed in the last six years or is it … Are the circumstances that gave rise to your article in 2012 still the same? I should say seven years as they are in 2019.
Anne-Marie S.: 36:10 Yup. I mean I think it is getting better as millennial men move into their parenting years, they are much more engaged. The women they’re marrying are much savvier about what can happen if you don’t set patterns of equality very, very early.
Anne-Marie S.: 36:36 I always use the example of it’s like doing the taxes, whichever member of a couple does the taxes the first time he or she will do them forever more. And child care is similar pattern. You have to get into those rhythms early. And also 40% of women are the primary breadwinner in their households. Now a lot of those are single mothers, but a lot are not. So that’s changing too, but we still don’t have either the infrastructure of care that we need nor do we have the social attitudes that recognized that investing in the next generation is just as important as investing money for pay.
Nick Hanauer: 37:24 Right. So one the questions I have, and to be clear, let me just say, I think it’s worth underscoring that we idealize the 1950s, right?
Anne-Marie S.: 37:36 Yes, we do.
Nick Hanauer: 37:38 But just for purposes of discussion, let’s accept that stylized, idealized idea in our heads that you know you had an economy which permitted one person to go to work and earn a living and another person, whether it was a man or a woman frankly, stay home and do the care work. And we had that for a period of time, and we set up a bunch of norms of behavior and policies to support that construct. You know a question in my head is, would you want to go back to an economy where a family could support itself with one earner and one person could stay home and do all the care work? Would that be a good thing? I mean there are a couple of levers here to pull, right?
Nick Hanauer: 38:27 One is to try to return to an economic construct that permits that arrangement, another is to accommodate the existing economic construct, which does not permit that for most people, where for most families both people have to work. And then you account for care in a different way. So if Anne-Marie was in charge of everything, what would you do?
Anne-Marie S.: 38:52 So I would create an economy where 50 hours of work a week would support a family. And then I would create the social norms that said how you divide those 50 hours between two people is entirely up to them, and is dependent on their personalities and their desires rather than their genders. It would be better if we had jobs that were sufficient to make more room for care. And so 40 hours, 50 hours, but you then could divide them so that men and women, say between whenever it’s 25 to 55, our prime childbearing, child-rearing years that everyone would say during that period, or indeed when you’re caring for your own parents or other relatives, I can continue working and growing. Although perhaps not as steep as slope as without children and I also have time to invest in my children, which of course is investing in ourselves as well. It’s some of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life are investing in my children, parenting, seeing myself reflected in their eyes, but also the enormous pleasure of watching them grow. And it’s not just my kids, it’s also students.
Anne-Marie S.: 40:23 So I would want a world in which as I said, two people who work somewhere between 40 and 60 hours a week were able to do that to support themselves and have time for care.
Jessyn Farrell: 40:34 I really like that. You identify so clearly the nexus between time and the ability to care for your family. And that’s something that we don’t elevate in the conversation around work enough. We talk about compensation, we talk about providing childcare benefits, and we talk about, to some lesser extent, the limitations on an individual’s work, but a family, a couple, economic units limitations on time are really not something that are part of our cultural dialogue. And I wonder how you interrupt our cultural obsession with wedding ourselves to work and this place that we need to get to, which that we actually have time allocated amongst two people to be able to care for our families?
Anne-Marie S.: 41:19 I mean this is really a tough one. And I tell people that in the time since I wrote my article in 2012 to publishing a book called Unfinished Business in 2015, I had to deprogram myself as a workaholic and as somebody who absolutely had been conditioned to believe that work for pay was valuable and care work was not. To somebody who now really believes that, from the point of view of our national security, our economy and frankly morality in the sense of of being able to close inequality gaps, that that care work is every bit as important as the other work that we do. But we are a nation who absolutely pride ourselves on being able to say we work as close to 24 hours a day as humanly possible. And yet, that is sharply at variance with the family values that we also say that we upholds.
Anne-Marie S.: 42:28 So the way I think about it when I talk to audiences or try to convince people is to get them to understand that care work is investing in others just as career work is investing in yourself. And that a good life involves a balance between the two, for you as much as for the people you’re caring for. And I think people don’t think of it that way. And they they think care work is only physical. Bathing and dressing and feeding. A, that’s only a relatively small part and B, even that kind of physical work is the platform on which you teach your children or you engage people. You actually have that fabric of human interaction, which is deeply satisfying to both parties. I mean not every minute of every day, I’m realistic, but it is ultimately at the end of our lives that human connection that we forge is as important to us as our bank accounts.
Nick Hanauer: 43:30 Absolutely. Rereading your article reminded me of the extraordinary amount of effort that my wife and I had to apply, as apparently you did, to getting our son to do and turn in his homework.
Anne-Marie S.: 43:49 Oh, yes.
Nick Hanauer: 43:50 And one of the really profound sort of lessons that I’ve taken away from raising children is if it was as hard as it was for my family … By the way, my wife did not work. And where all the resources in the world were at our disposal. It was that hard for us to get our son to do his homework and turn it in. The challenges for a family with less resources and less flexibility than us, it’s just insane, right? And we just have to find a way to confront that reality and those difficulties.
Nick Hanauer: 44:28 I do find myself retreating sometimes with respect issues like this to ideas like, should we pay people for care work? Would it be helpful to give giant tax exemptions for instance to people who choose to stay home and care for their children? Is that a good idea or a bad idea?
Anne-Marie S.: 44:53 Well, this is tricky. And again, we should not assume that policy changes will do all the work for us. Indeed as we were just saying, you got ask, “Who’s going to stay with your children when you’re going down to Olympia?” Men didn’t get asked that. We have a lot of work to do around cultural expectations as to who is going to do care work or those kinds of tax exemptions will in fact drive women out of the workforce and into the home. And unless we do this equally, we’re going to be going backwards.
Anne-Marie S.: 45:33 But there’s also the point of not commoditizating everything. To think of care as a commodity like any other. So you pay for your groceries and you pay for care. No, care is the heart of human connection. I think care jobs should be far better paid. And I think people who are caring for others should be part of Social Security. I think their work should be seen and valued, but I don’t think it only has to be valued in money. And I’d much rather have a world in which people looked at someone who did only worked and said, “What a narrow sad human being. What a person who’s missing out on some of the best life has to offer.” That would be a better change than suddenly saying, “Well, you know care work is working, we’re just going to pay for it no matter who does it.”
Nick Hanauer: 46:28 Yeah.
Jessyn Farrell: 46:29 One of the things I’ve been thinking about in listening to you speak about this is that it’s not just that we need this cultural interruption of that situation, but also that the way we apply it from a policy standpoint by sector really matters. What does the ability to have more time for your family in the construction sector look like versus in a state legislature versus in academia? And so how do you balance I think the need for nuance by sector with this more broad universal value of elevating care as an important thing?
Anne-Marie S.: 47:06 I think you’re right to point out that different sectors do need to be treated differently. I mean I was an academic for 20 years and that’s kind of the perfect, flexible arrangement that is also high prestige and high paid where you have to show up to teach classes and you have to show up for certain meanings, but other than that, you are paid for what you produce in terms of being a good scholar, doing your research, teaching good classes, but on your own time. But that would not work in construction. You can’t just say, “Okay, the roofer is going to come in whenever she wants to and the plumber’s going to come in whenever he wants to.” You won’t get a house.
Anne-Marie S.: 47:50 So I think in some ways, we need to say that good work. Let’s think about good work for everyone in our society. Good work is work that allows you to grow in your work and to maximize your productivity and your personal development, but also to have other parts of a life. And again, not everybody’s going to have kids, although everybody has parents. But other people are going to want to invest in their communities and invest in others in different ways. But then different sectors will have to be able to adjust as they need to, and we may need to do things like have a family care account, where this is something Ai-jen Poo and the national coalition for domestic workers and the organization caring across generations have suggested, that the equivalent of Social Security in this century should be a care account, where the government would send some money and you put in some money where you have the ability to take time out as you needed. Some of that will be emergency, but some of that will simply be being able to go be home at 3 o’clock when your kids come home from school, and then go back online later when you need to. Again, that doesn’t work for building a house, but there’s a lot that it can work for.
Jessyn Farrell: 49:12 And that’s definitely one element, the ability to take the time. But as you’re talking about a roofer or even a state legislator or anyone else, any female, you would want to make sure that that roofer is able to pump, should she have a baby. So there are all of these really specific nuances that go into creating a society that actually allows for work and the economic self-determination that comes from being able to have a job.
Nick Hanauer: 49:37 Right.
Anne-Marie S.: 49:37 Exactly.
Nick Hanauer: 49:38 Yeah. So this was a fantastic chat. Thank you so much for taking time out of your very, very busy day to chat with us about these issues. They’re super important.
Jessyn Farrell: 49:47 It’s so great to get to talk to you.
Nick Hanauer: 49:49 Yeah. Thank you Anne-Marie.
Anne-Marie S.: 49:51 It’s really a pleasure. Thank you.
Nick Hanauer: 49:53 Talk soon. Okay.
Anne-Marie S.: 49:53 Okay.
Nick Hanauer: 49:54 Buh-bye.
Anne-Marie S.: 49:55 Bye.
Jessyn Farrell: 49:59 Those are great discussions on how tough it is for families to have economic security in the United States relating to childcare, paid family leave. There’s just a bunch of stuff that we are not doing right.
Nick Hanauer: 50:12 Yes, indeed. And it really does sort of come down to who do we collectively want to be able to participate in the economy and at what cost because even when people sort of have the permission to participate in the economy if the trade-offs make no sense, then they rightly won’t. I just don’t think that makes any sense whatsoever.
Jessyn Farrell: 50:35 And there’s this really interesting intersection between cost and time that both interviews alluded to. Anne-Marie Slaughter talked about what would it look like if we had families work just 50 hours a week between two parents so that they could really be able to care for their family and if pay them enough so that it would work that way. And then of course we had Katie Hamm talking about just how expensive child care is and how hard it is to find child care. And so there’s this intersection between the time and cost burden that we’re placing on families that just makes it really tough.
Jessyn Farrell: 51:07 And then the other thing that I thought was really interesting about Katie’s interview was this idea that there’s this arbitrary distinction between education starting at 5 as just you know this age. Clearly, in another era, when we’re inventing public education, that was a cut off that seemed to make sense, but we no longer live in an agrarian society that’s based on agricultural cycles. So we need to really update our notion of when education starts based on science, and we know that that starts as soon as infants are born.
Nick Hanauer: 51:41 That’s right. And in an economy that makes it unambiguously difficult for single earner families to survive, where we’ve suppress wages in a way that make it necessary for both parents, given that there are two parents, need to be in the workforce in order to live stable, secured, dignified lives. We have to come up with a way to support families who have children.
Jessyn Farrell: 52:06 Yeah.
Nick Hanauer: 52:06 You can’t have it both ways. You can’t want an economy where everybody has to work all the time and not support child care in some way shape or form.
Jessyn Farrell: 52:15 Right. And even to take that a little wider lens. I mean I think our contention is that you can have great, thriving economy and have families that are able to do what they need to do to support each other.
Nick Hanauer: 52:26 And in fact, the two are in a feedback loop with one another.
Jessyn Farrell: 52:28 Exactly.
Nick Hanauer: 52:29 The stronger the families are, the stronger the economy will be. And again Jessyn, let’s not forget that it’s not just about child care, it’s also about scheduling practices. It’s about an overtime threshold that either gets you home after eight hours of work, or pays you a lot for the sacrifices you’re making to be there for more than eight hours certainly helps you pay for the child care necessary to stay overtime. It’s about paid family leave, it’s about all the other things that go into having a stable and secure family life while participating in the workforce.
Jessyn Farrell: 53:02 Yeah. That’s exactly right. I mean at the of the day, this is really about the workplace needing to adapt to the 21st century.
Jessyn Farrell: 53:10 On the next episode of Pitchfork Economics, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal explains what centrism actually is.
Announcer 2: 53:25 Pitchfork Economics is produced by Civic Ventures. The magic happens in Seattle in partnership with Larj Media, that’s L-A-R-J Media and The Young Turks Network.
Announcer 2: 53:33 Find us on Twitter and Facebook at Civic Action and follow our writing on Medium at Civic Skunkworks, and you should also follow Nick Hanauer on Twitter @NickHanauer.
Announcer 2: 53:42 As always, a big thank you to our guests and thank you to our team at Civic Ventures. Nick Hanauer, Zack Silk, Jasmin Weaver, Jessyn Farrell, Stephanie Ervin, David Goldsteine, Paul Constant, Nick Cassella and Anna Fadely. Thanks for listening.