Morgan Stanley
  • Now, What's Next? Podcast
  • Jul 21, 2021

Revaluing the Essential Work of Childcare

Transcript

Sonia McDaniel:

Sometimes I just feel like I can't do it anymore or I'm overwhelmed. And I feel like it's just too much.

Ciera Maul:

My husband has an essential job so he was outside working all the time. I mean, I cannot tell you the number of times that I called him crying.

Sonia McDaniel:

And then I get to the point where sometimes I do break down and cry in the privacy of my own room.

Ciera Maul:

Because I was like, "I don't know if I can do this. This is so insane."

Sonari Glinton:

Sonia McDaniel and Ciera Maul are two of the working moms on our show today.

Julie Kashen:

Sorry. They are really loud right now.

Sonari Glinton:

Julie Kashen is an expert on women and the economy and she's the third.

Why does it take having women in the legislature to get movement on an issue as important as childcare? I mean...

Julie Kashen:

They.... Sorry. Can I just tell them to be quiet for one second?

Sonari Glinton:

Please do.

Julie Kashen:

Is that okay? I'll be right back.

Sonari Glinton:

Yeah, go ahead.

That's the sound of a long simmering crisis bursting in on my Zoom call. When the pandemic put the world on pause and sent many of us home and to our screens, it became a lot harder to ignore just how impossible it is to be a working mom.

Ciera Maul:

So five o'clock is about when our morning starts.

Sonia McDaniel:

I get up about five o'clock in the morning.

Julie Kashen:

I started obsessing about this question of work and parenting when I was a senior in college.

Ciera Maul:

I'll hear my son and he's one of the twins and I'll go pick him up.

Sonia McDaniel:

I get them up. I feed them breakfast.

Julie Kashen:

I want to do all these things and have a family. What am I supposed to do?

Ciera Maul:

It's like a circus. Teeth brushed, hair combed, clothes on, shoes on. Dog needs back in, dog needs back out.

Sonia McDaniel:

The three and four year old, we actually leave to go catch a shuttle bus from our complex to the metro station.

Ciera Maul:

As soon as I drop kids off, I either have three minutes of quiet to myself or I'm immediately jumping on a call and then rolling into work.

Julie Kashen:

Women and families have been figuring this out on their own for decades, and it's just not the way it should be.

Sonari Glinton:

For Sonia, Ciera, Julie and countless other moms, figuring this out only got worse, a lot worse, actually, during the pandemic. Too many women have left jobs to care for their families, too many parents. And let's be honest, we mean too many mothers have reached a breaking point.

Julie Kashen:

How are we going to solve that and how are we going to take this moment and turn it into that pivotal moment for change instead of continue the crisis?

Sonari Glinton:

On this season finale of Now, What's Next?, an original podcast from Morgan Stanley, that's what we want to find out. Will the devastation of the pandemic bring the relief parents have so longed for, will it create awareness and force change? I'm Sonari Glinton asking, has the pandemic finally made us care about child care?

Sonia McDaniel:

When the pandemic actually first started and the daycare closed down, I had no idea what I was going to do.

Sonari Glinton:

Sonia McDaniel is a single mom of four daughters ages 3, 4, 14, and her eldest...

Sonia McDaniel:

She was 19 at the time. And she was actually staying with my mother, supporting her with her recovery from her massive stroke that she had. So she actually took on taking care of my two and three-year-old at the time as well as the 13 year old so that I can continue to work.

Sonari Glinton:

Sonia is a supervisor at a hospital in Falls Church, Virginia. Between COVID patients and taking buses to get to work, Sonia worried about getting her own children sick. Her two youngest daughters have asthma so she sent them to stay with her mom and her eldest. They ended up only seeing each other over screens for months.

Sonia McDaniel:

I missed them so much. Seeing their faces, especially the little ones, they miss their mom. They miss hugging me and kissing me and I miss hugging and kissing on them. It was a lot, it was very trying. And I really thought that I was going to have to eventually quit my job in order to be there for my family.

Sonari Glinton:

Sonia was certainly not alone. Now, the great recession of 2008 was what many economists called a mancession. The job losses during this pandemic were the opposite and what we've been calling a shecession. And that means that more than 2 million American women have left the workforce, many of them to care for their families. And it's not just the jobs lost. It's the reversal of decades and decades of progress.

Many women who are now out of work were in hospitality, restaurants, and hotels, and importantly, childcare. Industries that were disproportionately employing women of color, industries that have been decimated by the pandemic. Reviving those industries is going to be really hard. Now, if you're a black mother, you're twice as likely to have left the labor force as your white counterparts. And you're more than two times as likely to be the sole breadwinner in your household like Sonia. Even so, she considered leaving her job to care for her family during the pandemic. I wonder, what kept her working?

Sonia McDaniel:

My kids. My 13 year old and my 19 year old at the time told me that they wanted me to be able to continue to work and that they would help as much as possible and that everything would be okay. And they knew how many years I put into my current job and they know how much I enjoy and appreciate my job. And they know that I didn't want to have to give up my job, but I was willing to for my family.

Sonari Glinton:

With encouragement from her children, Sonia had to make a way out of no way like so many generations of women.

Julie Kashen:

Because the United States has not built a comprehensive childcare and early learning system since World War II, people have been figuring it out on their own for a very long time.

Sonari Glinton:

That is Julie Kashen. She's the Director of Women's Economic Justice at The Century Foundation.

Julie Kashen:

And black women have been figuring out for longer because there was a real push that white women should be home with their children and the stay-at-home mom movement. And that was not the same push as a result of structural racism for black women. And so black women have been figuring this out a very long time, coming up with creative solutions, relying on family and friends. But the reality is this is a problem for all of us and we can create collective solutions.

Sonari Glinton:

I've been thinking about how my mom came up with those collective solutions in my own life. I was a child of a single mother who worked in a car plant and her friends pulled their resources and us kids were babysat by a generation of grandmas. Mama Willa and Mrs. Dillingham were in their seventies when I was a kid and I miss them every day. Now, think of how the pandemic cut off those connections. Sonia's daycare eventually reopened to essential workers like herself, but with shorter hours for all the extra cleaning that was needed. Sonia had to start and end her Workday early, but not everyone has that flexibility and some women left the workforce because of that very reason.

Sonia McDaniel:

I have no idea what I would do without this daycare. This daycare allows me to be able to work. And also they do such a wonderful job with my kids. It's like a family to them and it's like a family to me.

Sonari Glinton:

I want us all to just take a moment to think about the phrase, essential worker. Where do the kids of essential workers go when their parents go to work? Daycare staff, the essential workers behind many, many essential workers, make, now let's wait for it, on average, $12 an hour. Julie Kashen has spent a lot of time trying to fix this problem.

Julie Kashen:

Those working in early education and staffing childcare are some of the lowest paid people in the workforce. There's rarely benefits that go with these jobs. And it's actually the sector where if you get a master's degree, you make less money than any other master's degree. So this is completely undervalued. There are so many people who bring love to these jobs, but you can not pay the rent with love.

Sonari Glinton:

Boy, I wish you could, but you can not pay the rent with love. The women make up 95% of the daycare workforce and 40% of those women are black and or Latina. Thousands of daycare centers have shut down since the start of the pandemic and the ones that have stayed open, well, they're struggling to pay for the disinfecting costs while dealing with lower attendance. Even with the low wages of childcare workers, good quality daycare is not cheap. A year of daycare can cost upwards of $11,000 per child.

Sonia McDaniel:

It is a huge issue. And I actually go through the county for assistance and it helps out a lot. It goes by your income. If I did not get that assistance through the county, my kids wouldn't even be able to go to this daycare center.

Sonari Glinton:

And then what would Sonia, a working single mother do? Many parents are watching at this moment to see what happens with President Joe Biden's proposed $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. It would fund education, paid family leave and childcare. Now, it still has to go through Congress, but it calls for a system where low and middle income families would pay no more than 7% of their income for daycare for kids under five. It would also raise wages and provide training for childcare workers. Now, Congress is going to do what Congress is going to do, but this announcement signals a huge shift. For a wealthy country, the US is way behind when it comes to women in the workforce and it is not good for anyone. Here's a number for you, $57 billion. One study found that that's what the US economy is losing every year because of the lack of reliable childcare options. I asked Julie if she thinks this is a hopeful moment for mothers, especially women of color.

Julie Kashen:

I do. I think that you have Janelle Jones as the economist at the Department of Labor who coined the phrase black women best, which is this concept that if black women are doing well, everyone's going to be doing better.

Sonari Glinton:

Until then, Sonia is just going to have to keep going.

Sonia McDaniel:

I don't know how I'm still standing. It's just... My kids are what motivates me. They just keep me moving forward and keep me pushing. And I don't think about it, I just do it.

Sonari Glinton:

For Sonia and so many working mothers, there's no alternative. But as women fall out of the workforce to care for their families and struggle to balance jobs and childcare, more and more companies are feeling the impact and are beginning to step up. Ciera Maul is a customer service and sales manager at Trust Automation. Now, that's an engineering company in California. She has a five-year-old and one and a half year old twins.

Ciera Maul:

My husband and I laugh about it because I always wanted three children, but I think he really was like, "Two is good."

Sonari Glinton:

But when they looked at the ultrasound for pregnancy number two and saw twins...

Ciera Maul:

He looked mad. And I said, "Are you okay? Are you angry?" And he was like, "I'm the happiest scared I've ever been."

Sonari Glinton:

One of the things that made life with three very little kids a little less scary was knowing that they had affordable daycare provided by Ciera's employer.

Ciera Maul:

Honestly, I would not be in the workforce. I would not have gone back to work if I didn't have onsite childcare.

Sonari Glinton:

But for a long time, Ciera never thought that she'd be a working mom at all.

Ciera Maul:

So my mom stayed home with us when we were up until five years old, kindergarten age, and then she went back to work. And even when she was back at work, I never felt the stress or the chaos or any of that because she managed it so well. And so I think in my head, I had this very dreamlike idea of staying home with the kids and all the arts and crafts projects and just a very peaceful home. And that's kind of what I pictured.

Sonari Glinton:

Then what changed?

Ciera Maul:

I ended up realizing I loved working and I loved what I was doing. I had a hard time picturing stopping my job. I love that. That is part of who I am and is part of my identity. But I also didn't want to have a pause in my career because I knew how difficult that would be in five to 10 years to try to get back into the workforce. But when I got pregnant with my first daughter, I had to think really hard about it because I didn't understand the struggles of childcare in general.

Sonari Glinton:

Ciera encountered what a lot of soon to be parents find when they start looking for childcare. Well, not enough daycare facilities, years long waiting lists and high costs. But as an employee of Trust Automation, she had priority and a discount on daycare at her office. This idea has been floating around for decades, but it's still relatively rare. What made it happen at Ciera's workplace?

Ciera Maul:

The owners are a husband and wife, and they had young children and they always hired nannies to be onsite with them so that they could be close. They had their own little classroom set up, their own little sandbox area and all that stuff. So I think because they had gone through it themselves, they knew the value in providing that for their employees.

Sonari Glinton:

Now, that value works in a lot of different ways. It means mothers like Ciera don't leave their jobs and employers don't have to hire and train new people. It also means...

Ciera Maul:

I felt like I could really focus all of my energy on what was right in front of me. And I felt like I was a better employee because ultimately that's the struggle of a working parent, right? So you're either a great employee and not being your best parent self or you're being a great parent and work is kind of on the back burner. I don't want to be that person that's cutting someone off like, "Oops, sorry. I have to go do pickup." Or I'm on a very important phone call and my kids are crying in the background. I don't want to be that person, but I can also recognize and I think in some ways the pandemic has really brought this to light where that's real. I mean, that is normalizing parenthood. Because in this day and age, most of us are working and to pretend like we don't have children is so fake and I don't want to be that person. And I want to work for a company and I want to work with people who acknowledge that and respect that.

Sonari Glinton:

Acknowledging and respecting that creates a work culture that's good for everyone. As we just heard in our previous episode on the future of elder care, more and more people are going to be taking care of their parents or other relatives.

Ciera Maul:

Work is not everything, right? It's important, but I also have this other life. And I think that if you have an employer that can respect that and understand that, we are all happier because we feel seen.

Sonari Glinton:

Feeling seen and supported is one thing, but there is also a bottom line reason companies like Trust Automation, Google and Patagonia have offered family-friendly policies like onsite childcare for years. We're talking more than five times more revenue growth and that's thanks to innovation, talent retention, and higher productivity. And the pandemic has made more companies wake up to the benefits of helping out working parents. Not just because they're losing employees, but also because many men in charge who haven't had to think about childcare this deeply before, well now they can't avoid it in their homes and on their work Zoom calls.

Julie Kashen:

And I think they did take on more than they had before and they saw it more than they had before.

Sonari Glinton:

Julie Kashen has seen this play out in government as well.

Julie Kashen:

There was a hearing on childcare recently in the Senate Health Committee and Senator Burr said something really interesting. So he's a Republican, ranking member on the committee and he said, "When I was a dad, I wasn't really engaged in this, but now that I'm a grandfather, I really understand why childcare is so important."

Sonari Glinton:

Some employers are starting to offer longer parental leave, backup childcare help, online tutoring support for kids who are still learning at home and monthly stipends to help with grocery delivery and other services. And some 200 companies, including Google, Spotify, and others have signed onto the newly founded Care Economy Business Council. And that's a coalition that's pushing for better caregiving policies that would help women get back to work. And while onsite daycare helped Ciera get back to her job, she realizes that providing childcare is really tough for many employers.

Ciera Maul:

They are constantly dealing with state licensing. They are running a company, but also running another company that has a whole different set of rules, completely different set of personnel, not easy, but it is worth it. And I think if you value your employees enough, then you can push through. And I think that my company is a really great example of doing that.

Sonari Glinton:

Solutions like this are just one of the ways to help women get back into the workforce and make careers easier for parents. Julie Kashen has spent her career trying to figure this out and she's been pushing for decades. Now, she finally has hope.

Julie Kashen:

I started obsessing about this question of work and parenting when I was a senior in college.

Sonari Glinton:

Why is that?

Julie Kashen:

I had been going along working toward a great career, a high-impact career as a political science major thinking I would go work in politics and sort of realized that my mom had been a stay-at-home mom. And I kind of always thought that, that would be my path as well and had this aha moment where I realized I couldn't do both. And so I as a poly-sci major and an idealistic 21 year old said, "Great. I'm going to figure this out. I'm going to solve this through public policy before I, and all my friends have kids." That was my plan.

Sonari Glinton:

Sounds like a college student. I will solve this problem for the world and myself in 10 years or in the next 10 year before I have a child.

Julie Kashen:

Exactly. That was the plan.

Sonari Glinton:

Not long after her aha moment, Julie packed up her life, drove to Washington DC and got a job on Capitol Hill writing letters for the late Congresswoman, Louise Slaughter. Over the past two decades, Julie has become an expert on work, family and caregiving. And Julie feels like the pandemic is finally making us pay attention.

Julie Kashen:

They're right outside my door right now. Hopefully they'll be gone soon. I'm sorry.

Sonari Glinton:

When COVID first hit, Julie and her husband scrambled just like the rest of us. They eventually created a pod with other families and hired a tutor to help her son and three other first graders through the months of online school. Julie says she's lucky she can afford to set up a pod, but she knows it wasn't as simple in every home.

Julie Kashen:

The stress of it for me has been really wanting to solve this for everyone, for my entire career and having it blow up the way it did. To feel this pressure of, wow, there are nurses on the front lines, there are people working at pharmacies on the front lines and they don't have a solution for childcare or remote learning. And how are we going to solve that? And how are we going to take this moment and turn it into that pivotal moment for change instead of continue the crisis?

Sonari Glinton:

For Julie, this last horrible year has a silver lining.

Julie Kashen:

I feel like what we got to see was just how much of a house of cards we've all built things on, right? That making it work means that every family is one paycheck away, one health emergency away, one car breaking down away from complete economic instability. And at the same time, we don't have a childcare system. We don't have an elder care system. We don't have the infrastructure for all of it. And so I think what the pandemic did was it just revealed how precarious all of it has been.

Sonari Glinton:

We did, in fact, have a childcare system once. In the US during World War II, the government realized that if it was going to make Rosie a riveter, well, they have to figure out who was going to look after Rosie's kids. So the government gave grants to community groups to run nursery schools and daycares for the war effort.

Julie Kashen:

Men were fighting the war, they needed someone to work. So they actually wanted women to work. Therefore, they created the system so that women could go to the factories. That Rosie the riveter could be out there making weapons, basically.

Sonari Glinton:

No, no. So what's you're saying is when the society and the government valued women working, it addressed the problem.

Julie Kashen:

That is what I am saying, yes.

Sonari Glinton:

But when the war ended, so did publicly funded childcare, then along came the 1950s.

Julie Kashen:

The images of the happy housewife that were sold, really proactively sold through advertising as this is the right thing. And then you also had pop science and kind of junk science telling you that the only way that you can successfully raise a child, if the mom is there, right? So we've internalized all of these different pieces and we continue to get conflicting messages about it, where women do feel the sense of responsibility and the sense of guilt over not figuring it out, over not being able to do it all.

Sonari Glinton:

In the early 1970s when women were entering the workforce, Congress passed the bill that would have funded childcare across America.

Julie Kashen:

50 years ago in December, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act. And that is the last time we came this close to having a comprehensive childcare and earlier learning system.

Sonari Glinton:

Now, the birth rate is the lowest it's been in 40 years and it is not hard to imagine why.

Julie Kashen:

Part of the reason people aren't having kids is because they've heard the stories. They know how hard it is to do all the things that they need to do to be able to work and have a family and they're not having it.

Sonari Glinton:

But they might reconsider if childcare wasn't such an obstacle.

Julie Kashen:

It's the scaffolding that holds everything else up. It's just that it's been invisible for so long. We need to have a childcare structure. That's what enables there to be productivity. That's what enables people to hold jobs and show up every day for work.

Sonari Glinton:

And when it comes to scaffolding and stimulating the economy, Julie sees caregiving as an infrastructure investment. You can't build out the important infrastructure we need: roads, bridges, broadband... if workers are worried about their families.

Julie Kashen:

And so the Care Economy is really about making sure that from the time a child is born until the time that you're in your older years or that you're aging or ill, that there is support for you. And two, that we need that care system so that women and parents can equally participate in building the roads and bridges and broadband. So I think it kind of all comes back together that way.

Sonari Glinton:

Has this pandemic pushed us to a breaking point where something has to give? Something has to give, doesn't it?

Julie Kashen:

We can build a fighter jet and also a submarine, but we can't seem to do that on children's issues or social services or human services issues. But I cannot leave on that note because I am an optimist. I don't think we're going to screw this one up.

Sonari Glinton:

Julie does not think that we'll screw this up. But even as people and corporations are waking up to the importance of the Care Economy, so much depends on every sector, including government coming together to create a childcare system that everyone can use. So what's going to happen with this real moment of possibility? Well, one of the things we've learned in this series and over the pandemic, there are so many opportunities to do better. When we think about what's next, can we imagine a world where, well, I don't know, you don't have to remortgage your entire house to care for your elderly parent or pay for childcare? Heck, I can imagine a shopping mall that didn't look exactly like every shopping mall from Glendale to Augusta. College, what about that? That prepares us for work and life without soul crushing debt.

If baseball is better with Jackie Robinson, then it's a fact that movies are better with Michael B. Jordan and Bong Joon-ho. It's not like we didn't know that these things were broken, but the pandemic gave us this flashing technicolor reminder, all those sweet, loud kids on Zoom, that it doesn't have to be this way. This experience has changed us. It has to have, hasn't it? But how and how much? How are we using this opportunity to do better? We spent this season looking for green shoots, those signs of positive change. And at the end of it, I am a bit more optimistic and I hope you are as well. I'm Sonari Glinton and this has been Now What's Next?, an original podcast from Morgan Stanley. It was brought to you by Producer, Miriam Johnson, Sound Designer, Mark Angly, Executive Producer, Chris Boyce, and two working mothers of course: Show runner, Tori Allen and writer, Sarah Meehan Sirk.

The pandemic pushed parents, particularly working mothers, past a breaking point. As the U.S. begins to recover from the economic and social setbacks stemming from so many women leaving the workforce to care for their kids, we look at the history and future of childcare.

Host Sonari Glinton talks with three working mothers who have lived through the ups and downs of childcare. Sonia McDaniel is an essential hospital worker and single parent to four daughters between the ages of three and 20. During the pandemic, with daycares and schools closed, she had to find creative solutions to keep her working and keep everyone safe. Ciera Maul has three kids under the age of five and if it weren’t for her company’s onsite daycare, she wouldn’t be in the workforce. Finally, we hear from Julie Kashen, working mother, and economist at The Century Foundation. She has devoted her career to finding public policy solutions for domestic workers and working moms and she feels like people are finally paying attention to childcare and the care economy.

 

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