Every January, our state celebrates the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a hero who sacrificed his life in the fight to end discrimination and poverty in America. In this respect, it seems appropriate that January is also the month when our Governor releases his budget proposal. The State Budget is more than numbers; it reflects our collective priorities and funds what is most important. Sadly, this budget proposal fails to honor Dr. King and his fight for justice. Within the Governor’s proposal are further cuts to critical social service programs. There is no clearer or more tragic example of this disinvestment than our state’s willingness to cut access to state-sponsored child care for low income families. In the name of justice and equality, we ask the Governor to fully fund child care to ensure universal access to all and quality work conditions for providers.
Currently we have more than 300,000 children languishing on waiting lists, unable to access child care services due to reductions to CalWORKs and other funding sources. This creates a burden too great for many communities to bear. In California, a family of four that makes just over the income threshold for subsidies can spend as much as 40 percent of its household budget on the cost of full-time care. Working single mothers making the median income can spend as much as 43 percent of their income on care. Child care for two children costs almost double the average rent across the state. In short, we have a broken child care system that is stunting the development of our youth and keeping families stuck in poverty.
The deterioration of our child care system is further exacerbated by the poor working conditions suffered by child care providers. On average, these women who provide instruction to our most precious citizenry make an annual salary of $15,600, if they are lucky. In most cases, that equates to about $7.50 per hour without benefits. This is less than the earnings of many workers in the retail industry, including those at Walmart. It should be no surprise that our child care system suffers from a high rate of turnover among providers (30-40 percent). Currently, thousands of parents struggle to find quality care because providers cannot afford to remain in business. When we think about the impact this has on the growth and learning of our children, it is immoral and unethical to continue forcing child care providers into a lifetime of poverty.
As we continue to be guided by the legacy of Dr. King, and as we celebrate Black History Month, whose stories of those who fought for justice will be retold, California’s Governor must approach the issue of child care as a sacred right for everyone in this state. We must ensure universal access to quality, affordable care, especially for our poor and working class residents. We must raise the quality of work for our providers and offer them just compensation for the service they provide our children and families. This special time of year requires us to do nothing less.
(Leon Jenkins is President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Los Angeles Branch; Rev. K.W. Tulloss is President of the National Action Network (NAN), Western Regional Office and Rev. William Smart serves as President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Greater Los Angeles.)