Three months into my pregnancy with my oldest child, I was laid off. As soon as I had begun sharing the good news that my family was growing, I found myself a casualty of a corporate merger. Without health insurance and a regular paycheck, I rushed out to find another job before my belly revealed to any potential employers that I would need to take a few months off to care for a newborn shortly after I was hired. But it was 2009, and the country was in the middle of an economic recession, adding an extra layer of difficulty to my job search. I couldn’t find a job that paid enough to cover my share of our household expenses and infant childcare while I was away from home before my daughter made her debut. So with all of our family hundreds of miles away and no affordable local childcare options, I was forced to take myself out of the workforce and stay home with our baby while my husband worked until she was old enough to go to school. Over a decade later, my family is still dealing with some of the consequences of the lost income.
Stories like mine are not unique. A lack of affordable, safe childcare options leaves many women across the country to face the difficult choice of reducing the number of hours they can work or leaving the workforce altogether. But for women of color, not working is not an option. More than 80 percent of Black mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners for their households.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the fact that working families don’t have sufficient access to paid family leave and affordable childcare. And as the country gets back on its feet, the first quarter of 2022 has shown that Black women are having the most difficult time. According to the Center for American Progress, 38 percent of working Black women who need parental or medical leave do not take it. And many who do, take time away from work without getting paid. Nearly 55 percent of parental leaves taken by Black women are unpaid. It also can’t go without saying that Black women, who represent the majority of paid caregivers, often provide childcare for others without having their own care needs met.
The Build Back Better Act includes universal Pre-K for three and four-year-olds, which would cut childcare costs for families by thousands of dollars and allow more women to increase the number of hours they can work outside of the home. It would also limit child care costs for many families to no more than 7 percent of income. But Republicans have blasted the plan, calling it a spending spree and refusing to push it through.
“These are things that can make a big difference in supporting workers, supporting their families, helping workers — especially women — stay in the labor force, stay in jobs. It also helps their families maintain economic security and economic stability during periods of crisis and shock,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, labor market policy analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
It’s time for our country’s lawmakers to recognize the important contribution Black women make to the workforce and to their family’s financial well-being. Supporting safe and affordable childcare is just the right thing to do.