By Wendoly Marte and Jasmine Henderson
Voters know that the economy doesn’t run without access to child care They also know that we haven’t seen the worst of the child care crisis. That’s why in this election year, mothers, early childhood educators, and child care providers are part of intentional, relational organizing voter programs to connect with voters they know. These voters would have been impossible to target through traditional voter engagement tactics—some of these key voters are not in the voter file, those who are often do not have accurate contact information, and others are infrequent voters who usually don’t get contacted by any campaigns.
That’s where moms and early childhood educators come in with their personal networks.
In a pandemic and a turbulent presidential election where voters couldn’t even witness one presidential debate without disgusting interruptions, relational tactics break through the noise. As impersonal tactics and misinformation ramp up from all types of campaigns, people are far more likely to read and trust messages from someone they know.
Stand Up for Ohio, the sister organization of Ohio Organizing Collaborative, is one of many local organizations across the nation that are organizing women and early childhood educators to ensure voters use their voting power to elect people who would fight for a caring economy. The robust relational program leans towards the network that people already know. Reaching to parents, colleagues, neighbors, uncles and grandparents, letting them know how important it is to vote this year for candidates that put families first.
Organizers with Stand Up for Ohio, for example, have connected with hundreds of community members plus hundreds of child care providers with their own personal connections of parents and teachers. Each of these individuals have the goal of engaging up to ten people within their personal network to commit to become child care voters.
So far, the results have been astonishing.
We are predicting that by election day on November 3, 2020, we will have a massive turnout of people who were able to break through the noise of a missing voter deciding between voting or not.
These are engaged child care voters who elect candidates committed to a caring economy. And for Black and Brown women, this type of commitment is critical more than ever as it directly impacts their wellbeing.
Almost all of our country’s early childhood educators are women, and an increasing number of them are women of color. The current child care system undervalues the work they perform by paying them an average of $16,200 a year—nearly $38,000 less than the average national salary. In fact, the families of early childhood educators are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers’ families.
A few months back, as states mobilized in response to the pandemic, child care workers were called on to tend to the children of other essential workers so health care workers could staff our hospitals, clerks could staff our pharmacies and grocery stores, and transit workers could ensure that they all made it to their jobs—all of them risking their lives and the health of their families to respond to the crisis.
COVID-19 has merely shown that our society cannot function if parents cannot find safe child care for their children. And yet, the child care workforce fueled by women continues to be dreadfully neglected. They are chronically underpaid, and the system itself has been historically underfunded. Add the pandemic to this broken system, and we end up catapulting devastating and long-term negative impacts on children and women if bold and decisive action is not taken now.
These voters know that this trend must stop. Candidates who claim they believe in racial, social and economic justice must ensure that this essential workforce is valued and that early childhood educators get paid a living wage.
Families and businesses are suffering.
Exploding child care costs have been crushing American families, with low-income families spending more than a third of their income on child care. Parents are planning their work schedules around caring for their children. Others are declining work promotions or new job opportunities because they cannot afford to pay more for care.
These families know now more than ever the importance of having access to high quality and affordable child care. What’s more, businesses know that if their employees don’t have reliable and safe child care for their children, then they won’t show up to work with a piece of mind to be efficient at their jobs, or some won’t show up at all. Between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics September jobs report. In the same time period, just 216,000 men exited the workforce.
You don’t need to have a young child to understand that we all must be child care voters to keep our nation running. This election year, voters of all backgrounds are understanding that the child care industry is part of our economy.
Black and Brown women are indeed on the frontline organizing and fighting across the nation for a new child care system that could become the heart of our nation. These exceptional leaders lead a grassroots movement focused on a new vision of child care in their communities, making visible low-income and disproportionately Black and Brown women who have struggled with this crisis for decades.
Together, they have made child care a top policy priority in the country for voters.
Organizations such as Stand Up for Ohio, Mothering Justice Action Fund in Michigan and Parent Voices Action in California have actively encouraged presidential candidates to detail their commitment to high quality, affordable child care. From formal forums to the trending hashtag #ChildCareVoter and #WhatMamasWant, their actions have been fundamental in placing child care in candidates’ radars, including Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden with his child care proposal, which would make care more affordable for those who need it most and acknowledges that we must provide early childhood educators higher pay and benefits.
At the national level, the child care movement was successful in asking the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Child Care Is Essential Act on July 29, 2020. The bill creates a vital “Stabilization Fund” within the pre-existing federal child care program so states can support providers and parents until the economy recovers.
These efforts are among the many across the nation seeking bold child care policies that center the community’s vision, guarantee community accountability, and advance racial and gender equity—building power from the ground up with their vote.
Wendoly Marte is the Director of Economic Justice for Community Change Action. Twitter: @wendolymarte.
Jasmine Henderson is an Organizer with Stand Up Ohio.