In his State of the Union address, President Obama sent a clear message to our nation about his plans to strengthen support for working families by improving access to childcare and paid leave.
“In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever,” the President said. “It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like that national economic priority that it is for all of us.”
The President’s plan to make quality childcare more widely available and more affordable for working families includes proposals to introduce a “Second Earner Credit” for married couples in which both spouses work, to triple the maximum child and dependent care tax credit for middle class families and to expand paid family and medical leave programs across the country.
To paraphrase the President, “This is good news, people.”
Why? Because without it, the everyday-family care crisis will stunt America’s economic growth.
It’s not news to most working families, but the cost of care is stifling. And the truth is, this high cost -- and low availability -- of quality care is an issue that impacts not only working families, but also their employers.
Child care is the single biggest budget item for many families. When you layer that on top of other work-related costs, like time and taxes, many families – across all income levels – find themselves in the uncomfortable position of weighing out whether it “pays to work.” And when that happens, everyone loses.
Working mothers (or fathers) withdrawing from the workforce lose out on future job opportunities and limit their lifetime earning – and spending -- potential. But it’s their employers who lose talent and institutional knowledge -- and incur costly turnover expenses.
And it’s not just child care. A growing population of men and women are “sandwiched” between their children and aging relatives who also have care needs. All of them – new parents, adult children caring for aging parents and the millions doing both – are struggling to meet their personal and professional responsibilities.
New mothers are dropping out of the workforce, senior caregivers are scaling back hours and enterprises are losing tens of billions in lost productivity costs due to care-related issues, such as absenteeism and presenteeism (when you’re at work, but not actually working).
So when we hear politicians speak – Democrat or Republican – we need to remember that improving the availability and affordability of quality child care is not only about helping young working families make ends meet. It’s about keeping our next generation of leaders actively engaged in the workforce.
Expanding access to paid sick leave won’t just help the 43 million workers without sick time to earn sick days. It will cut down on the absenteeism and presenteeism costs that come when working families are forced to choose between a paycheck and a family member in need of care.
Introducing paid parental leave policies won’t just bring the United States up to par with every other developed country the world. It will improve retention rates among female employees, driving profitability and help enterprises attract and retain the family-focused Millennials who’ll be our next generation of leaders.
Let’s face it, government action alone will not solve America’s current care crisis.
To remain competitive in a global economy, our business leaders need to rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of our modern, multigenerational workforce. From small employers to global enterprises, we need to support our working families through paid leave programs, flexible work arrangements and employee benefits. And, in return, we’ll see reduced turnover, improved employee engagement and higher productivity.
As the President said, “It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years and for decades to come.”
Let this be our start.
Donna Levin is a co-founder and Vice President of Public Policy and CSR for Care.com. In this role, she is dedicated to discovering innovative solutions to the growing global care issue, helping shape local, federal and state matters as they pertain to families.