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The following blog submission has been approved by the Board of the Attachment Network of Manitoba

What’s NEXT for Childcare?

Jen Zoratti

NOTE: Jen Zoratti is a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press and the following article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press’ NEXT newsletter.

If you’ve been paying attention, then you know the pandemic has been disproportionately hard on women — particularly young women, women of colour and mothers. 

According to an RBC report from March, “almost half a million Canadian women who lost their jobs during the pandemic hadn’t returned to work as of January. More than 200,000 had slipped into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a threefold increase over last year.” 

That’s why, on Monday, when Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that the federal government would invest $30 billion in childcare over five years to create a national child-care system, many women on my Twitter timeline were cautiously optimistic.

“Here is our goal,” the minister tweeted, “five years from now, parents across the country should have access to high quality early learning and child care, for an average of $10 a day.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press files)

That goal, if met, would play a critical role in getting women back into the workforce, which is essential to Canada’s post-pandemic recovery. (I refuse to call this a “she-cession” as many others have; let’s not pink-wash a crisis with cutesy euphemisms, thanks.) 

Alas, as with all announcements related to childcare spending, the Greek chorus of “you chose to have kids, you pay for them” arrived to complain.

I do not have children, but I am Auntie Jen to many of my friends’ kids and to my actual four-year-old niece, who is one of my all-time favourite people. I like kids. Kids are great. They are reliable sources of both comedy and perspective.

But even if my attitude was more along the lines of “ugh, kids” I still would have absolutely zero problems paying, say, school taxes even though I have no kids in school. Why? I like taking the long view. See, kids have this habit of growing up. You know who is going to do my eventual hip replacement? That’s right, someone who is currently a child.

Speaking as both a product of the public school system and a former child myself, I’ve doubtlessly benefitted from the taxes some other child-free woman was paying in my neighbourhood. This is called living in a society.

Some people, however, prefer to think we live in an economy, so let’s look at it that way. Who will allow you to retire? Children. Who will become the next generation of workers and, also, consumers? Children. Who will keep this economy, such that it is, humming through the next recession, and, inevitably, the next pandemic? Children. Who will have the power to create policies that will affect you as a senior citizen? Children.

Despite the outsized pressure on women to have kids in the first place — and hoo boy, the pressure is real — many segments of society tend to treat children like burdens to be shouldered mostly by individuals or worse, like an 18-year sentence for unprotected sex. Some people talk about children as though they’re these tiny freeloaders who thanklessly gobble up resources and give you colds, but they are, quite literally, the future — a future that is worth investing in. And that investment necessarily includes accessible, affordable, quality childcare. Because you know who else deserves a future? Women.

My generation is feeling a particular squeeze on this issue. Many elder millennials — who are kissing 40, by the way; ‘millennial’ is not a synonym for ’20-something’ — cannot afford stable housing, let alone astronomical childcare costs in cities such as Toronto where median monthly childcare costs rival mortgage payments. As a result, many millennial women are electing to have fewer kids or no kids at all. For some, this isn’t even a choice but a matter of circumstance.

“A parent should stay home,” is another common refrain. Funny, though, how that almost always means, in heterosexual couples, that the mom should stay home — even if the mom earns more. Even if the mom, who is a whole person with her own identity outside of motherhood, has built a career she loves. Again, this also isn’t always a choice: having a parent stay home is not financially feasible for many families — especially single-parent ones. 

There’s obviously lots to be hammered out in terms of what the feds’ big promise could look like in practice. But a strong workforce and a resilient economy has women in it, full stop. A childcare strategy is key to post-COVID recovery. After all, it takes a village — doesn’t it?

Jen Zoratti, Columnist, Winnipeg Free Press

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