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17 February 2013

TIME OFF WITH BABY I: Economics

So now that both Howard Dean and President Barack Obama are talking, will the nation start listening?

While Obama took the "attainable goals" (please don't laugh, these are our kids, right?) approach, Howard Dean, followed his typical "hold no prisoners" route. And God bless him, because I'm not likely to drop my zero-to-three advocacy, and Lord knows we could use a very public defender on our side on this debate, yes, even if it's due to make us all laugh (these are our kids, right?).

So, now that the conversation has been publicly reopened on early care by Mr. Dean, and pre-school by Mr. President, let me give you some ammunition. I accepted it as my obligation to read Time Off with Baby: The Case for Paid Care Leave (thank you, Tris) in November after writing my last post. But let me tell you this is one motha' of a text, and it took me a while to distill for you only the most exciting, gut-wrenching and salient points, so that when we do make our elevator speeches, by golly, we leave our listeners downright nauseated. Are you with me!?

I'll try to convey what I've learned in a few posts so we can both maintain sanity. Since it's what America knows best (I have a pet theory that slavery sowed the seed of capitalism), let's put our money where our mouths are. For today, we'll talk economics, because if we don't start there, as you know, in the U S of A, we will never get anywhere. (When you talk to the Devil use his language.)

Major bullets, compliments of authors Edward Zigler, Susan Muenchow and Christopher J. Ruhm:

  • Nobel economist James Heckman determined that investment in the earliest years of life yields higher returns than can be achieved through funding any other time in the lifespan: for each DOLLAR invested in early childhood, between $4 and $17 - SEVENTEEN - are saved. In societal terms, we reduce crime, teen pregnancy and welfare need, and increase schooling, workforce productivity and health. I'd like a taste of that ROI!
  • Full-time Center-based care for an infant in 2009 ranged in cost from $4570 in Mississippi to $18993 in Massachusetts: the average annual cost then was more than the average annual cost of a year's tuition and fees at a 4-year public college in 40 states. Did you plan to pay for 8 years of higher education per child?
  • When Educare, a research-based childcare production set out to initiate programs in a few locations to provide exactly what infants, babies and pre-schoolers needed in day care, cost was estimated at $16K - $17K per year per child ... in Maine. So, when your child receives what he or she deserves by scientifically established humane standards, developed to support your child's beneficial growth - mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and physically - it actually costs as much as higher education.
  • By today's standards, the government has agreed that childcare must cost no more than 20% of income above the poverty line to be considered "affordable". A month of my child's not-bad-at-all, probably not stellar 2-year-old day care for 3 days per week costs me one week of take home pay. That's 25% of my above-poverty line salary, as an officer, by the way. Let's thank God, once more, that I'm married and my husband is home two days a week, because if not, I'd be shelling out 33% of my take home pay on daycare.
I'm going to ruin the ending of the book for you, just so we're on the same page here (ba da bum bum bum). In California parents are already provided with a shared approximately 50% pay for 6 months of early child care leave. And after doing the math, spending some serious time with babies and mothers, then dropping in on the work world, these economists are recommending a federal program that offers California's benefits in all 50 states. Not so much because that's what's best for the family or baby but because of everything out there which would probably be better (in Europe some moms get paid for up to 2 years), this is a compromise that is affordable for our nation as she stands now, and gives families the best start within the limitations we face through a policy that we might actually pass. Attainable goals, people. The authors wanted to be taken seriously.


This is a picture of my son with his Aunt. Why? Because my son is one of those lucky children who is loved and cared for by the whole village. Some children are not that fortunate. And while we may not be able to get everyone involved in taking care of every child, we can all be involved in supporting at least the two people who matter most: mama and daddy, so that they can give everything they have to raising their child.

Not sure moms and dads matter so much?? - check in with me next week.

And let's talk! Add your comments and questions and thoughts below!

1 comment:

  1. Heckman's estimate that we save roughly $17 for every dollar we spend on high quality early childhood care is rather conservative. I think the returns to society are actually much higher, and in much more than economic terms. I look forward to part two.

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