Report ties lack of child care to long-term income disparity
Marybeth Christie Redmond of the Vermont Commission on Women has been working for the past 15 years with a Burlington woman who is a refugee and single mother of five.
During that time, she said, she has watched this woman work tirelessly to make ends meet and take care of her children. Redmond said her experience and that of others have shown how the scarcity of affordable child care has helped to perpetuate multi-generational poverty.
At a press conference last week in Williston hosted by Let’s Grow Kids, Redmond described how closely tied the lack of child care is to income disparity for women.
“Our state’s lack of access to paid leave and quality child care exacerbates a cycle of inequality for too many Vermont women,” she said at the International Women’s Day event.
The group released a report — co-authored by the Vermont Commission on Women — outlining such policy recommendations as increased investments in child-care assistance and adoption of paid family leave.
To illustrate the challenges faced by working women, it cited the example a 35-year-old woman who had a child and took five years off to care for the child. If she was making a salary of $56,990, she would face a loss of more than $600,000 over the course of her career.
Robyn Freedner-Maguire, director of Let’s Grow Kids, said this is an example of how pay inequity, driven in part by inaccessible child care, negatively impacts Vermont’s economy on the whole. She said what is shocking is that there is nothing really new about the economic impact of the lack of affordable, quality child care.
The report also said that while 13 percent of all Vermont families with children under 5 live below the poverty line, that number jumps to 46.6 percent for households led by a single mother.
Last month, a representative of Let’s Grow Kids asked the House Appropriations Committee for additional funding for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, which has not been adjusted for inflation or changes within the child-care system in 10 years.
Freedner-Maguire said there is currently a $9.2 million difference between what is needed to provide adequate child care and what the state covers.
However, state Department for Child and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz said in a statement to VTDigger that using the 2008 market rates allows Vermont to provide aid to all families. If it was adjusted, the program could only afford to provide subsidies to some of those in need.
“Instead of starting a child care wait list to pay a higher provider rate, as some states have done, Vermont has chosen to pay a lower rate of provider reimbursement in order to provide some level of subsidy to all qualified families,” he said.
The report also suggested other actions that could be taken to support working women, including the passage last year of H.196, which would offer six weeks of paid family or sick leave followed by six weeks of unpaid leave. Employees would buy into the benefit through a .141 percent tax.
“Passing H.196, as originally introduced, has the potential to help many Vermonters, especially women, remain in the workforce while welcoming a new child or balancing the demands of work and families,” the report says.
Freedner-Maguire said she is the busiest she has been in her time as director due in large measure to the growing economic limits to affordable child care.
“We need to do a better job between bridging women and their families, so that no women needs to choose between economic security and starting a family,” she said at Thursday’s event.
Trisha Scharf, educator at Children Unlimited, emphasized another long-term economic impact of investing in child care.
“We are literally building the brain of Vermont’s future workforce, “ she said.
by Kelsey Neubauer