A few weeks ago, when my agency was doing it’s 3rd or 4th round of layoffs of the last 18 months, an ex co-worker and dear friend of mine sent me a text message that said, “Don’t know if you’re on the list, but if you get cut, I’m forming an ‘unemployed gals’ book club’ and you are welcome to join.” I laughed out loud. It was a completely wonderful gesture to get me through a very hard day. I was lucky to have kept my job that day. We lost a lot of wonderful people.
I work for a subsidized child care agency serving low-income families in Sacramento County. Like all other early childhood education programs in California and across the nation, we have seen our budget slashed and slashed again. Governor Arnold Swartzeneggar line item vetoed stage 3 funding for child care with the last signed California budget, eliminating access to quality child care for 55,000 needy children across the state. Stage 3 funding was for parents who are not receiving welfare assistance and who haven’t done so for at least two years. When a single mother has to go to work to feed her family and child care costs as much, sometimes more than, her housing, how does she pay for child care and still put food on the table? Without help, she more than likely cannot sustain a household. Subsidized childcare invests in a marginalized population and small business owners. It gives the parents access to viable jobs and quality childcare so that the parents can pay taxes and the children can have a safe place to go. Subsidized childcare invests in day care centers, family child care homes and trusted family members so that our youngsters are enriched while their parents are at work. Its benefits are many-fold.
Childcare is one of the safest investments a nation can make. According to a 2009 study on the economics of child care by Cornell University, “Every dollar invested in child care provides an economic impact of $3.50 to the economy in goods services and tax revenue.” Still, our elected officials don’t always make the smart decisions for long-term investments, especially when decisions are becoming as difficult as the choice between clean water and paved roads. Governor Jerry Brown and the new California legislature are facing some very tough decisions with the California budget; subsidized child care may face further detrimental cuts, making the most vulnerable echelons of our society ever more so.
I know that as our local, state and federal governments try and make up for the fact that they have been spending beyond their means for several years now, more and more programs that people rely on will get cut. I know that I may be joining my friend’s book club soon. I also know that I am in a lot better position than most.
My friend with the book club, I’ll call her Maya, is a mother of three. She was laid off over a year ago and her husband met the same fate shortly thereafter. Both she and her husband worked in the social services sector. Their entire family is currently receiving MediCAL. Maya explained that she applied three weeks after her husband was laid off, before he received his first unemployment benefits check. At the time Maya applied, the Department of Human Assistance counted only her unemployment and her entire family was able to qualify. Unfortunately, with the quarterly report that included her husband’s unemployment, they are being discontinued at the end of this month. For now, her kids will be placed on the “Healthy Families” program but that program faces deep cuts also. She and her husband, both of whom have chronic medical conditions, will get by on “prayers” despite still being eligible for COBRA through their former employers because the premiums are out of reach.
Like many American families, Maya’s family has moved in with elders, in this case her parents, in order to help absorb the impact of some of life’s living expenses. She loves her family and is a very proud wife and mom but explains that she thinks there is something unique to women in this current economic situation. “When we are employed, we take care of our households (groceries, cleaning, doctor’s appointments, school functions, etc.). Once unemployed, we continue to do them, however, we are expected to do ‘more,’ because we are ‘no longer working.’ In between laundry loads, cooking, dropping/picking kids from school, the day goes by quickly and we soon realize we have less time for job searching than our male counterparts.”
Maya worries specifically that women have faced lay-offs at a higher rate than men, observing, “Nearly two years ago, I joined a musical band of about 10 professional people. Eventually, many of us were laid off from our respective jobs. Out of those of us who were laid off, 5 of us are female and only 1 is male.” But even with her observations of inequality, Maya’s outlook is still very positive. On the subject of the book club I asked her if she had a specific focus. She stated, “I don’t think we’ll be reading Mead or Beauvoir, but definitely not Danielle Steele, either. For our first meeting, we chose “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. A good read that will keep our minds busy but not fill it up with fluff, either!” When it comes to resilience, women and other marginalized populations have a thing or two we could all learn from.
Even if our nation maintains a positive attitude on the subject, however, the cuts to childcare, education, health services and other similar supportive services disproportionately affect women and children. While there is still a very long way for women to go in society, the leaps and bounds made in the last century have been critical to the equality of the sexes: for safety, health and equal opportunities for women. As the economy unravels and deep cuts are made, it is critical that our governments don’t turn back the clock on women and other marginalized communities. Unfortunately, based on what we’re seeing now, it looks like women and other marginalized communities will be the sacrificial lamb as the collapse of industrialized civilization continues. It is our responsibility to lay out our priorities and make those priorities known to our elected officials. As tough decisions are made all over this country about where to spend the remains of our resources, we have to decide if our priority is people or pavement.