Will we heal with the Build Back Better Act?

There are approximately 10 million unfilled jobs right now in the United States, which is indicative of the labor shortage wreaking havoc on the economy. The causes for this labor shortage are numerous and vary depending on who you ask. They include COVID-related anxieties, an increase in retirees, increased job selectivity and racial and gender discrimination. However, one reason for the shortage requires special attention. Many people listed as unemployed already have a full-time job—parenting. The pandemic has made arranging childcare incredibly difficult, forcing many parents to make an impossible choice: have a job or be a parent. 

In the United States, unless you are really lucky or born very wealthy, you will have to work to live. Households where both parents have full-time jobs are not uncommon by any stretch. 

On the other hand, children require a lot of care. In pre-pandemic times, daycares, schools, babysitters and eldest children made it possible for two working parents to raise a younger child. Due to the ongoing pandemic, raising a child in a household with two working parents has become significantly harder.

The cost of childcare and sporadic COVID shutdowns hitting daycares and schools rendered organizing childcare ahead of time impractical, if not impossible. Choosing to be a stay-at-home parent over being an overstretched and underpaid working parent became a rational decision for many. For others, surviving on a single income and savings became a fitting temporary solution.

The key to getting parents back into the workforce is to ensure that parenthood and employment are not mutually exclusive. Childcare services need to be made cheaper and easier to access for parents of young children. A New York Times article featured a Greensboro family that spent nearly $2,000 a month on childcare for two children, which was a third of their income. According to the Treasury Department, childcare costs average $10,000 a year per child. Childcare is not optional for families in which both parents work full time, and should not be that expensive.

Luckily, President Biden and the Democratic Party are trying to step up to the plate. The Build Back Better Act seeks to address numerous issues, one of which is childcare.

In theory, the childcare-oriented portions of the bill should be simple to figure out: decreasing childcare costs, establishing a system for universal Pre-K or daycare and guaranteed paid parental leave. With a Democratic majority in both houses and control of the executive branch, passing such legislation should be easier than it was before.

In tandem with cheaper childcare services, universal preschool services should definitely be included in any social spending package. Pre-kindergarten services have consistently been shown to benefit children educationally. They also provide relief for parents who have to watch their children all day. An ideal package would both limit childcare costs and provide for universal pre-K.

Another issue with our childcare system is our lack of guaranteed parental leave. While this shortcoming is less of a long-term economic disadvantage, it still should be addressed. Having children frequently has disproportionate impacts on parents. We should guarantee that new parents receive paid time off to adjust.

These legislations have all been proposed or put in as iterations of the Build Back Better Act. Considering that the Democrats are proposing this legislation and have a trifecta, this bill should be flying through Congress.

However, the Build Back Better Act hasn’t passed yet, and it’s uncertain which policies will be included in the final version if it gets passed at all. This uncertainty is due to the massive ideological split within the Democratic party.

Progressive and conservative Democrats are so far apart that there are legitimate concerns that either side could vote against any legislation they don’t like, sending it to the bottom. In the House, Democrats are only three seats above a majority, and the Senate is split 50-50. Any bill that isn’t supported by “The Squad” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush), Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema is in serious danger.

The moderate faction seems to be the biggest holdup. Many moderates wish to delay passage of the bill until it is evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Depending on what the office says, some could abandon the B.B.B., killing it over concerns about cost.

As of now, making any prediction regarding what will be in the final version of the Build Back Better plan is fruitless. Until the CBO scores the bill and conservative Democrats voice their reservations, only one thing is certain: whatever childcare legislation makes it in the final version of this bill will likely be too little and definitely too late.