What the child care crisis costs us all


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We saw how successful child care could be during WWII, when women went to work in factories and temporary care was put in place. Kids thrived. But after the war, women returned to homemaking and years later, when the topic was revisited, there was a backlash, and the government balked. But here’s the thing: In those intervening years, we’ve seen exactly what happens when moms work. The economy grows! Yet we’re still in utter chaos when it comes to child care and there’s a steady refrain that it’s every family for themselves. What is this crisis really costing us?

In this frank and candid conversation, renowned economist Betsey Stevenson, Reshma, and Tim talk about how we got here, what’s at stake, and what it will take to change the future.

Episode 2: What the Child Care Crisis Costs Us All

Full Transcript:

Reshma Saujani:

Welcome back to Why Care, I’m Reshma Saujani with Tim Allen, and we have an amazing episode for you this week. We’ve got literally some of the smartest minds in the space here with us. Later in the episode, you’re going to hear from Betsey Stevenson and how we got to this place. This episode is actually going to be a two-parter, and so after that, we’re going to have some fun getting into why our leaders in Washington have, or will not, or have not, do what they need to do. So but first, Tim, let’s catch up. What’s happening in parenting this week?

Tim Allen:

Hi, my friend, I have to tell you, it is one of those. So the flu has gone rampant, and last night, I was up pretty much every hour on the hour dealing with the crying child sick kind of. It’s funny, they sleep in bunk beds now and it is the exercise of trying to keep one asleep and making sure you don’t make too much noise while the other one is —

Reshma Saujani:

I got bunk beds too.

Tim Allen:

Oh! While the other one is projectile vomiting. I don’t want to be too rough with the audience. But literally, I’m talking exclusive moment last night and I was like, on my hands and knees at three in the morning, cleaning it all up, patting his back and being like, “Everything’s going to be okay.” And in my mind, I’m going, ‘It’s not okay. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but this is not okay.’ So yeah, I would say it’s a really fun time right now; but hey, that’s the joy. I actually had that thought last night where I was like, have you ever thought and you’re like, ‘they say have kids, they say it’s the joy of your life. They say this will be great.’ And at three in the morning, I was like, ‘I’m reconsidering all of those decisions.’ I don’t know if it was the right one. I was like, wow, what my life would have been like.

Reshma Saujani:

Yeah especially having them later in life, it’s like, I’m tired. This is where I’m supposed to be sleeping or like drinking margaritas, whatever which one, I’m doing either.

Tim Allen:

I didn’t do the sleep during my 20s. I was like, oh, let’s make my 20s all of it, and now that I’m in my 40s I’m like, ‘Why did I not take advantage of that opportunity?’ So I told it yes.

Reshma Saujani:

Absolutely.

Tim Allen:

How about you? What’s going on in your world? How are the kids?

Reshma Saujani:

Oh my God, I dropped my kid off at school when they didn’t have school. That was not fun. I’m just so overwhelmed with work, especially last week. I’m fighting a book banning fascists all week, sir.

Tim Allen:

I heard you rebelling.

Reshma Saujani:

This call, this thing, this thing; I guess I had signed my kids up for a three-day week program. But I thought it was five days a week. So on Tuesday, when he does not have school, I took my little two-and-a-half-year-old to school, and run through my air pods on, the teachers know me so they totally understand. They’re like put him in his room, and it’s funny because I walked in the classroom, they didn’t have his curvy[?] ready. There’s like some other kid’s picture. And so the teachers are, “No, no no. it’s okay Reshma, I’ll just move short-size picture here,” and she was so sweet. She knew I was driving him off on the wrong day. But I think she was like am I confused or like, but let me leave them there. And then I run out right before anybody can stop me and like they’re calling me. But of course, I’m on different calls. I’m not picking up the phone, and then realized or like, just wanted to let you know, he doesn’t have school on Tuesdays or Fridays. So we’ll keep him today because we can’t get a hold of you. But just for next time. I was like; this is how I am not balancing everything. I didn’t even know what days I had signed my kid up for school.

Tim Allen:

Wow. Now, hey, it’s funny. We’ve talked about this before. There’s little grace in parenting when there’s a mistake made because it is like a mistake. Like you’re dealing with someone else’s life, right? You’re like, oh, my gosh, I left Shaan at school, didn’t have school, right? You’re like living this moment of like, what is going on? And it’s so personal, it’s like, how do you not make it go? I screwed up. Because look, it’s like, there’s no room for error in parenting and that’s crazy.

Reshma Saujani:

No, and it’s so relevant to what we’re talking about today, which is also like now I’m like, ‘What am I doing on Tuesdays and Fridays with him?’ Because I had thought that I had school every day, and I was covered from like nine to one or whatever. So it’s also just like, again, how the system needs to just be fixed.

Tim Allen:

Yeah, to your point, Hayden’s at home sick. We don’t have an emergency backup. There’s not a thing where I’m like sitting there going, ‘Oh, I have this all mapped out and planned out at four in the morning and now I’m like, trying to manage.’ Luckily, I have a job that allows flexibility for me to be able to work from home and do too. But a lot of people do not. This is not one of those things that’s common, and I go, you’re right, the system’s just broken a lot of ways in that regard and we’ve talked about it.

Reshma Saujani:

It’s hard, I was so lucky to see my friend Kentanji get sworn into Supreme Court on Friday for her first ceremony, and my husband was going to bring down the kids because there’s a bunch of events during the day. Of course, our babysitter gets sick; she was going to come with us. So now we’re like, ‘Okay, wait, like, this is a big moment, how does Nihal get there, leave the kids at home; who’s going to take care of them? How do we then to get back from DC?’ But it’s like that is just again, I think what parents are experiencing and juggling every single day.

Tim Allen:

That’s right. Yeah, it is one of those things. It’s just no matter how big or small the moment, it is just parenting is the literal full-time job. But is a full-time job full of surprises at every moment around every corner. It’s like you cannot map out life, which is not done. I think me any good because I’m really bad at it. I wish I was better. But great, cool.

All right, well, I know that we have incredible, incredible guests today and I know that we’re going to talk about a lot of amazing topics. And before we get into the interview today, I want to do a little table setting and I want to lay a couple of grounds, some of the facts out for everyone, just to level set, because I think a lot of this is known but I don’t think a lot of it’s said very often.

One of the first things that we want to talk about is inside of the pandemic half of American families live in a childcare desert. A lot of people asked me even today, what is childcare desert? What does that mean? Definitionally childcare deserts are areas where there is not childcare available, meaning daycare, meaning nanny, and meaning full-time babysitting. It is a literal desert in order to find childcare. If you’re not related to someone who can help you take care of a child; finding childcare is next to impossible.

So half of Americans live inside of the childcare deserts, which I think is an amazing stat for us to keep conscious of because those of us who live in major metropolitan areas go, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll hire a babysitter or we’ll go to daycare down the street.’ That doesn’t exist for the majority of Americans, and that means one for every three kids, there’s only one daycare slot available, and that in and of itself just is mind-blowing if you think about it. Also from the pandemic, more than 16,000 daycares have permanently closed.

So not only through the pandemic, was there already a pre-existing condition of this childcare desert, you had 16,000 additional daycares closing, which really forced childcare deserts to become more expansive. It actually exacerbated the issue that is already in existence today; huge waitlists. I think we haven’t talked about this before, but I remember there was an article about three weeks ago where there was a daycare opening in the middle of Arkansas, and there was a line that lasted overnight that then went into the parents waiting close to 18 hours just to get a single slot inside of a daycare. That was just crazy. It’s crazy.

Reshma Saujani:

Wow! Wow! Wow!

Tim Allen:

Yeah, costs keep going up. You talked about daycares with inflation, with supply and demand, not only are there less slots available for kids in order to be able to participate but there’s also now more expense hitting the family. Daycare rates today, the average weekly rates are at 226 bucks. That’s up 5% since the pandemic and nannies are up significantly as well. They’re at $694 with a much-deserved wage increase and labor pool, but it’s still more expensive hitting the bottom line for the parents.

And finally, there’s the care workforce we’ve talked about this extensively you and I Reshma. People who do some of the most important work for our economy, they’re underpaid, underappreciated, they don’t have benefits, they don’t have portability of benefits. Many of them are paid under the table. But there’s a huge demand, and it continues to grow. And so we are really faced at this moment in time with how do we continue to find opportunities for families to find care. How do we really empower parents to be able to have care for their children while they’re working, or while they’re having these activities or unexpected events that we were talking about earlier? And how do we meet that demand? How do we continue to get more people into the Labor Workforce and make it an attractive job, make it a job that is a profession that people gravitate to, and really can take pride in getting paid the right value and getting the benefits that they deserve? It’s a bad cycle. It’s a vicious cycle.

Reshma Saujani:

It’s a bad cycle and I think what’s so — So the big part of this is like Americans already can’t afford childcare and then we’re not paying our childcare workers enough. So we don’t have enough people in the industry. We say we pay our zookeepers more than we pay our childcare workers always just blows me away. So I’m just so excited to hear from Betsey about this later. But what is the solution to this crisis?

Tim Allen:

Is it one solution? The thing I’m always thinking to myself is, how do we do this in a multi-pronged approach that we’re able to tackle this simultaneously? Build back that we’re supposed to do that. There was a lot of activities that are supposed to do that. I know we’re going to get into a lot of that today. But I’m really fascinated to hear what Betsey has to say because I think that as we get to map out this uncharted territory, it really is going to be interesting to see what actions we can take collectively in society, and what are the things that we can actually invest inside of it? It was one of the things…

Reshma Saujani:

And how do we move…

Tim Allen:

No, go ahead.

Reshma Saujani:

No, finish your thought

Tim Allen:

I was only going to just say I know when you and I have talked privately; this is one of the big reasons that caused us to get this podcast going. It’s how do we give a voice to what’s happening out there in the care giving community, the care giving world for both families and caregivers themselves? And how do we really come up with solutions as a collective? How do we talk about these things? Yeah.

Reshma Saujani:

Yeah, and how to up cage culture? One of the things as a mom, I feel like people were like well, you figure it out, you decided to have a kid, it’s your choice, your problem. It’s not the government’s problem. It’s not the private sector’s problem. It’s not your employer’s problem. It’s your problem. And so I feel like the difference is like, my friend, Alicia Gupta, and I were on a panel, we did a panel together she has this amazing slide about, and how the United States has the largest amount of women participate in the workforce, but then the least amount who are kind of the most amount that are coming out at the end and it’s because of childcare, and other countries have figured out how to solve this problem from a societal perspective. But we keep putting it on the individual to solve and we’re not making any progress. And so I think deeply what is embedded in our inability to pass policy on this is because we still think it’s in the personal reign, it is still a personal thing that government is not supposed to get involved in, and how do you change that? And I think Betsey is going to have a lot to say about that.

Tim Allen:

Yeah, that’s interesting. I actually think a lot of people, both parents and nonparents share that point of view. I hear a lot of parents, I call it parents on parent crime, which is they will say, ‘Oh, well, you chose to have kids, or I have it figured out.’ It’s like, that doesn’t necessarily because you have figured it out doesn’t necessarily mean it is fairly figured out for everyone else. And I do think that we have to start to look at it from a lens of guess what, okay, yeah, chose to have kids. Does that not mean, we can’t have a structure that actually supports us having a career and having a life and having everything that we want? It’s not mutually exclusive people. It’s not mutually exclusive. You can have it all, that’s the thing.

Reshma Saujani:

Exactly, and we can invest in things that we may not also have. I may not be a parent, but I may want to make sure that parents are adequately cared for.

Tim Allen:

Yeah. It’s so interesting. You say that, because a lot of it becomes back to the personal point, right? It’s if you don’t have a kid, what’s in it for me? And I know a lot of my friends who don’t have children are like, ‘Well that’s your problem.’ And I’m like, it is a me problem. But one day, it’s going to be a you problem, and you want me to handle it now? Or your sister’s problem, or your family member’s problem, you will someday face this problem in some degree of your life. So help me now or deal with it later.

Reshma Saujani:

Exactly, or you’re going to deal with it later. All right, let’s bring up Betsey. So Betsey Stevenson’s our first guest today, she is the former chief economist for the Department of Labor, a Professor of Public Policy, and Economics at the University of Michigan, a renowned expert on care in America. She is literally one of the most brilliant people I know, period. Every time I get an opportunity to speak to her, to hear what she’s saying, to read something that she’s written it just makes me feel smarter. I’m like, okay. I feel informed, and I feel like she sparks ideas, and new ways of thinking, and I think that that is really, really, really, really, really important. So welcome, Betsey.

Betsey Stevenson:

Thank you for having me. It’s great to talk with you.

Tim Allen:

Awesome!

Reshma Saujani:

It’s great to talk to you too.

Tim Allen:

Yeah, we’re really excited. I can tell you it’s one of the things I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. So thanks, Betsey.

Betsey Stevenson:

I feel like there’s so much to talk about.

Reshma Saujani:

It’s so much to talk about. Tim paints like this really grim picture. Is it true?

Betsey Stevenson:

It’s actually worse. Like, it’s worse? Because what we now layer on, I feel like, to me being in the picture I’ve been talking about for years and now we got to layer that on to an economy that’s just had the highest inflation we’ve had since the 70s and guess who’s not getting the pay raises- Childcare workers. So maybe that’s good for families, the cost of childcare is not rising as fast as the cost of everything else, except for who wants to do that job. We’re sort of stuck in this awful place.

I was testifying in front of Congress and one of the women there were was somebody who talked about workers walking out of their childcare center and taking job across the street because it paid better and hating that wanting to keep working in childcare. But how do you do that when it’s paying less than anything else and I think that’s just been, we got to see the wages go up, and if the wages are going to go up, the prices are going to go up, and if the prices are going to go up, how are the families going to afford it?

Reshma Saujani:

So how?

Betsey Stevenson:

That’s why this is not a personal problem. It drives me crazy when I hear people describe this as a personal problem. It’s so many uniquely American, right? It’s like when you have a baby, it’s like that’s your new toy and then we don’t admit that person to the human race until they turn 18, and then all of a sudden, government’s supposed to have something to do with them. Your baby is not your toy; it’s a person, and government is supposed to represent all the people, including the littlest people. So it’s not a personal problem. It is a societal problem, where we’re trying to think about how we take care of people. That’s like saying that people starving to death in retirement is a personal problem. You chose to get old, could have died. That’s crazy.

Reshma Saujani:

So Betsey, take us through the history a little bit like the Lanham Act. Is that how you say it? Was it always this way? Is it something about rugged individualism, deep American culture, American history that has put child care in that position? Walk us through the history a little bit less.

Betsey Stevenson:

Well, legislatively, there’s a bunch of times where it looked like we were going to get child care, and then we didn’t get child care. I think in the US, it’s always the case that these kinds of policies have had knife-edge moments where we could have gone the other direction, and we’d be living in a totally parallel universe right now with happy kids who’ve been invested in. Sometimes the knife’s edge goes what I would call the right way. The US was the first country to make high school free and publicly available. The rest of the world laughed at us and said, we were crazy, ‘Why do all these people need high school? That’s a fancy education.’ And then by giving access to free and universal High School, this crazy thing that no other country did, we set ourselves up to have the fastest economic growth and the fastest period of productivity gains in the history of our country and maybe the history of any country. So, that’s one when the knife’s edge went the right way on childcare, it’s almost always gone the wrong way.

Now there is this, you mentioned the Lanham Act. I don’t think of that as like, we wanted childcare, now we don’t. I think of that as like, we had a proof of concept. It proved itself. Why did we walk away? So if you go back to World War Two, you guys have all heard of Rosie the Riveter? Well, why did we read Rosie the Riveter? We sent all the guys working in the factories overseas to fight in the war and we needed to send moms into the factories. And we told women it was patriotic to go in the factories, but we had to do something with their kids. So as part of like a Defense Act, it was actually what’s called the Lanham Act was actually the defense housing and community facilities and Service Act of 1940.

This thing was designed to make sure that people, who lived around the factories that were needed for the war mobilization effort, were able to go into those factories, and so they needed childcare. So in order to increase employment, which was of women, which was a national priority at the time, they came up with the money to have free universal high-quality childcare, and guess what, the moms loved it. The kids loved it. The kids grew up who got access to. It’s not every kid; this was in particular areas of the United States. It wasn’t all over the US. The kids who got access to it ended up being more successful on average as adults than the kids who didn’t. It worked, and it wasn’t that costly. But more importantly, it was an investment that at the end of the day paid off and I think we have mountains of evidence. I mean Reshma and Tim we’d have to talk here for hours and hours, if we were going to go through all the evidence of how investing and kids early on leads to higher wages and greater economic growth. We know that this is an investment that works. The question is, why don’t we do it?

Reshma Saujani:

Yeah. So is there any insight into them, so we know that it works, and then when the men come back, we want to push women out is so that we don’t renew the act? Or what happens?

Betsey Stevenson:

It was a defense time act like why does the Defense Department want to take some of his budget and pay for childcare? That’s it, but we’ve studied it, this is long enough ago, these children have grown up, mostly live their lives, and mostly passed on. So we actually know what happened, and we saw high school graduation rates went up for those kids, college graduation rates went up for those kids, employment as adults went up for those kids. It was helpful to the kids. I think when we talk about childcare, part of the problem is there’s two things we’re trying to do, and they get sort of mixed up, and instead of us saying, ‘Wow, here are two great things, and two great reasons.’

It’s like somehow, neither reason works well enough. But the two things are, if we have childcare, then parents can work. And when parents can work, they can bring money into the house, and when you bring money into the house, that actually helps kids out immediately, particularly low or middle-income kids, where you make it just easier for that now household income to be high enough that they can live a sort of reasonable standard of living. But the second reason is, it turns out kids actually do well, when people who are knowledgeable about early childhood education, spend some time with them when they’re young. Like my kids, and Reshma, you talk about sending your kid into preschool and the benefits of preschool is not just like, you have a place to put your kid, but actually your kids learning really important skills about how to be with their peers, and how to act and how to…

Reshma Saujani:

Wash their hands and cover their mouths.

Betsey Stevenson:

How to sing as a group, how to identify their colors, how to play cooperative games, how to maybe sometimes play competitive games, these are all things that we have to learn. It is actually important that we teach kids at the time that they’re most receptive for the right lessons. And I think of myself, I think Betsey was a pretty good mom, but I wasn’t an expert, and what kids need at every single age, and I brought in experts, early childhood educators who could make sure that when my kid was three, they were learning the things that is age appropriate for a three-year-old. And there’s a whole body of research on that, that shows that if you do age-appropriate to child development activities with kids, they grow up with greater skills because you can’t just randomly teach what you feel like teaching them about it at age three like there’s things that their brains receptive to and ready for. And then also you’re building scaffolding that further learning is going to get built on. So we don’t start with roofs, and then come back and lay foundations, we lay foundations, and early childhood education is all about laying the most solid foundation you can,

Tim Allen:

Yeah, when you have the experts actually weighing in on the curriculum the child’s learning, plus the peer aspect of it Betsey so, you’re really talking about an aspect where I know I was incredible that Pre-K year learning and seeing them develop because they were able to identify their emotions, they were able to identify how their peers handled things and then mimic and then also learn from influence. And it really was in the environment of being fortunate enough to have a Pre-K program that was publicly funded by the school district and by the state in and of itself. So it’s incredible that you talked about this.

Talking about the knife cutting both ways; it seems like it’s been a really long time since the knife has cut the other way. Meaning if we’re talking wartime, we’re talking Nixon almost had something going on, Build Back Better was just on the cusp of actually doing something. But it doesn’t feel like the knife is actually cut the way of public education and childcare in quite some time. The thing I always say is, it feels like we’re still in an old farming system within schools, right? You got the eight to two models, why parents stops working at two I have no idea. I’m sure there are some but I can tell you, the majority of people I know don’t stop working at two, and it becomes a thing of picking up your kid. It’s where have we not been able to get traction. Why has the knife not gone the other way to the positive in recent history that I can actually acknowledge and think of?

Betsey Stevenson:

Yeah, I think the US is so driven by like the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and that’s sort of how our political system operates. It’s also like, typically operates in a crisis, right? When you think about when was the last time we did something because we thought it was the right thing to do, rather than we were confronting a crisis and needed to take some action? So we’re constantly creating policy in a crisis and that’s how the Lanham Act got past. It was a crisis. We needed people to work. I feel deeply sad that the crisis that was the pandemic, it did create a moment where we might have gotten more for childcare, and then we didn’t. And I’m not sure that it’s going to be easy to do it now because we’re a country that governs in a crisis, and that crisis passed without us getting up.

Reshma Saujani:

Betsey was it because we weren’t squeaky enough? I can handle it if that’s what you think, is that what it was?

Betsey Stevenson:

In some sense, it’s got to be right.

Reshma Saujani:

Yeah, I feel that way too.

Betsey Stevenson:

Everyone’s got their handout. I think the problem of child care essentially comes down to the fact that when you need child care the most when it’s the most salient to you, you’re too busy struggling through it to be squeaky enough. And it’s really going to be up to people who pass through this time in their life, where they no longer need childcare. I’m moving into that myself. Now, my kids are 10 and 13, and all of a sudden, with my 13-year-old, the school is perfectly fine to keep her till six o’clock at night from 7:30 in the morning [Crosstalk]

Tim Allen:

After school activities, you’ve got it all now.

Betsey Stevenson:

She has a chorus and she has volleyball…

Reshma Saujani:

It’s such a good point.

Tim Allen:

So true.

Betsey Stevenson:

But it’s going to be up to people like myself as we move through it to as you have even more time and energy to fight on this, to just keep reminding yourself how important it is. The costs are real people are not having kids, because they don’t know how they’re going to afford childcare, but it might be it’s not about childcare. It’s about discrimination in the workforce. I waited to have kids because I didn’t think I’d ever become a tenured professor of economics if I had kids too young. I wish I was able to have had three kids, but when you have your first kid at 39 it’s not that easy to make it to number three

Reshma Saujani:

We’re on this, I feel the same way or on the same schedule. I had my first kid at 39 I wanted three but now the shop is closed.

Betsey Stevenson:

I tell my daughter if she waits till 39 I’m going to kill her. I waited because we are not a society that is welcoming in parenting. We don’t have an infrastructure for it. We don’t have a workplace for it and it is fantastic that there’s so many opportunities for women. But if we’re not, I think we need to be approaching parenting as not a women’s issue. It’s a people issue, and we need both parents to be playing this equal role as caregivers and we need our workplaces to make the adjustments necessary to fit parents in.

When I was in the White House, and I was an advisor to President Obama in the second term, and this is what I worked on was working family stuff. And I had a 10-month-old when I started, and an almost four-year-old. And people would say to me, ‘Oh, how do you do it,’ and I was like, ‘You know what I do, I go home, I get to see my kids before they go to bed, and I go home, so I can see them. I don’t always eat dinner with them, but at least I see them before I put them to bed, and maybe I get up early in the morning and miss them in the morning, but I’m going to see them at night, and I make sure I read that story, and I made time on the weekends.’ I never felt guilty, even if I left before other people, because I was like, you know what, this is what you have to do if you got parents with kids this young, and if you don’t, then you’re missing a really important voice.

Like in your workforce, if you’re like, ‘Oh, now everybody, here’s got to work 16 hours a day.’ Well, you can’t get an active parent, and that means that you need to know for sure that having an absence of parenting voices in your workplace is going to be the right thing for your business it’s to succeed, or your government to succeed, and I think a lot of the times it’s not. You need the diversity of voices, and that includes parents, and so we need to make these adjustments.

Also, lives are long, working lives are long, parenting is short. It’s so short. Most people will spend 50 years of their life working. Think about that, because most people will take some kind of job around age 20 and most people never work until age 70. So 50 years, what you’re going to have two kids, and they’re going to be under five for what, six or seven years out of those 50, and we’re fighting to get 12 weeks off of paid leave. That’s six months out of 50 years. That’s 1% of your work time. It’s crazy. And the problem is, we can’t push our kids, we can’t have kids when we’re that old Reshma. We got as old as we could, and then it gets terminal time.

So we’ve got to be more open to the fact that people are still in the ambitious part of their career when they’re having children, and we want to make the space for them to continue to be an ambitious part of their career, and that means having an infrastructure like childcare, having an infrastructure, like flexibility at work. And it means realizing that all sorts of people are going to wax and wane in terms of when they have the gas all the way down, and they’re accelerating in their career, and maybe they’re going to let it up a little bit for a year. That does not take them off course.

Reshma Saujani:

Yep. So what’s your lesson for the pandemic, because essentially, millions of women were pushed out of the workforce because of childcare, we haven’t fixed the ‘childcare problem.’ Businesses learned a lot for a minute and allowing for flexibility hybrid work, right? First, it was all about, well, there’s no productivity loss. Then two years after the pandemic, suddenly, it was like, oh, there’s all this productivity loss, we have to go back to where it was before, even though we recognized for a minute that we’re going back to where it was before is untenable for working women who are mothers, because in particular, who are doing the care giving work, so what’s the deal?

Betsey Stevenson:

Let’s start with the facts, because the Federal Reserve just had its big Jackson Hole conference, and somebody presented research on what happened to productivity during the pandemic, productivity declined in industries that require face-to-face work, and it really increased in industries that allow work from home. So there weren’t productivity declines from working from home is the opposite; there were productivity gains and those work-from-home industries. What we see is people still want to work from home, and moms want to work from home more than just about anybody else. Parents want to work from home more than non-parents. There is a concern that this could lead to sort of further gender gaps.

But you know what; women had been paying to get flexibility in the workplace for a long time, and now we’re just sort of quantifying it by saying, ‘Oh, look, they’re willing to give up.’ There’s a recent study that found; women are willing to give up wages, more than men in order to get that workplace flexibility, but we’ve got a long history of research. Claudia Goldin is a scholar at Harvard; she’s shown that women don’t choose investment banking, because it’s not very flexible, and as a result, they go into industries that pay less, instead of becoming lawyers, women become veterinarians or are pharmacists. Why? Because those are industries where with a veterinarian if you work three days out of the week, you make 60% of the money as if you would made five. So at least the ratio is fair.

In investment banking, you try to cut your hours down by 10%, you’re going to lose 60% of the money. That’s the limit. So women have been paying for flexibility, by moving into professions that penalized flexibility less, but pay less overall for a long time, and now we have I think another dimension, which is some businesses that didn’t use to let people work from home or going to now let people work from home, just gives them another place to get that flexibility. So I think in the long run, it’s still good. I do, even though, it is going to be the case that women are going to be more likely to pay for that privilege than men are. I think that we’ve drawn attention to this as a national problem in a way that we hadn’t drawn attention, and we’ve started to shift the conversation. So my hope is that we can continue to push on that, and let me give you another factual reality.

Women have come back to work faster than men because women are still the ones that are really delivering when it comes to the US economy. Between 2015 and 2019, the fastest growth in labor force participation was among women, outpacing men, and we had hit the highest labor force participation of mothers ever, and we are easily on the way back to hitting those highs and exceeding them. And so this problem isn’t going away, because women aren’t going away. They’ve invested too much. They graduate from college at rates higher than men, they have more workplace experience. They’re having their kids at older ages, which means they’re coming into motherhood with more years of experience in the workforce. So they’re not going away and my hope is that post-pandemic, we’re going to keep agitating. I think we’re going to see this November; can women deliver at the polls, when the Supreme Court takes a very fundamental right away from women, which is the right to make fertility decisions for themselves?

Reshma Saujani:

And I want to just ask you one thing, because what you just said, because sometimes people will hear what you said, and they’ll say, well, so they’re back to work. Why do we got to fix it? Why do we have to offer them childcare? Why do we have to do more paid leave? But if his wife…

Tim Allen:

They figured it out.

Reshma Saujani:

Yeah, they figured it out. What’s your response?

Betsey Stevenson:

Well, one is that they’re not having children. So we can put ourselves into one of those situations where we become one of these countries where we have a very, very low birth rate. But I don’t think that’s sustainable, and this comes back to the point where what is government representing, it’s not like just representing the people who are here right now what they want in this exact moment.

Tim, you talked about people who don’t have kids who are like, ‘Well what’s in this for me?’ Well, do you want to be able to eat when you’re retired? Because you can save up all the money but if there’s nobody providing the food, then what are you going to do? We actually need the next generation to if we want to live in retirement, then the next generation has to grow up and be willing to do the work so we can spend the money because all the money is, is a right to buy into the stuff that is currently being produced. And if we decide we’re done with the next generation, we don’t need no stinking next generation, and we got to work, and all we’re going to get to eat is what we produce ourselves as we get older. So we actually need the next generation and you can end up like Japan, where they got washing machines for all people because they don’t have people to wash the old people.

Tim Allen:

Yeah, a lot of what you’re talking about Betsey is it just strikes me as like it’s a team sport, we’re playing individually coming from either the collection of trying to advocate for child care which we treat like an individual issue, taking care of ourselves as we age. A lot of individuals just think, ‘Okay, well, I’ll take care of myself or I’ll have the money to take care, or you’d all hire somebody to do it.’ But if there’s not someone to hire to take care of you, it doesn’t matter how much money.

The society is a collective, and I think a lot of people get so into their individual personality behind it that they go, that doesn’t impact me when actually it does, it does impact you. You talk about coming to the polls in November, what do you see in the future? Do you see it’s possible to create this collective? Do you think society can have this moment of awakening where they go, ‘Okay, got it.’ I just feel like the world just needs to get smacked with an ‘aha’ moment, and I would think that the pandemic would shake everyone and go, ‘This is it, we have to take care of each other, you have to invest here.’ If not that what, what do you think happens here?

Betsey Stevenson:

Yeah, my hope is that I wish people could deeply understand, the inflation we’re facing right now has nothing to do with money, and has everything to do with people wanting to buy more stuff, more goods, and services than we can possibly make. That’s what inflation is. We make a bunch of stuff, we have a bunch of workers available, and if people want more than that, it was going to get bid up. And so we don’t have a next generation, your money’s not going to help you, because everybody’s going to be trying to find the workers that don’t exist. What we need to be in a sort of stable society, where as you’re aging out of something, somebody else is coming into it. So, maybe people will come to appreciate what it means to invest in a society. I certainly think younger people today really understand that there is this collective benefit to coming together. I see my students and they are different today. They just watched what should have been a really easy response to a public health crisis become incredibly difficult, and lead to more pain than was necessary. And I think they’re starting to understand that and trying to figure out how we bring people together to decide on what kind of society we want. I think the thing that worries me the most is that instead of coming together and deciding what the United States of America is going to be like, we’re going to start to form smaller groups, and that might be at the state level, at the local level, where you can be like Massachusetts, where they dealt with, given everybody health care long before the rest of the United States did. All right, so we see other states or states are starting to take action on preschool; on childcare.

Reshma Saujani:

On childcare, we just introduced a Marshall Plan for Moms bill here in New York City for childcare.

Betsey Stevenson:

We are going to end up with a country where there’s just massive inequality based on where you want to live, and now maybe people will vote with their feet and try to relocate, and that will just lead us to be more sort of bifurcated. I do think right now, the movement has moved to the state and local level. I guess at the federal level, what I would say is what we really need is businesses to realize that they would much rather deal with one set of Federal Regulations, than 50 sets of state regulations that all differ in a way that makes compliance more of a pain in the butt, and then we can get companies actually working to get one uniform program, and that could happen. And the more plans you get across the state level, the more you’ll get businesses agitating for like, one federal plan. I think the biggest problem there is then what happens is every state is like, ‘No, no, we want to keep our plan.’ Just like we want it to be our way we don’t want to go back up into a federal plan.

Reshma Saujani:

Especially if, like forum shopping for a living in states becomes things that employers or employees are doing because of the benefits that they’re offering. Or, in the case of abortion, I know my human rights are protected here. So that’s where I’m going.

Betsey Stevenson:

Yeah, the problem with the whole forum shopping is obviously that’s easier for higher-income people to do, and so it could make things even more awkward at the federal level. We already have a situation where mostly states that vote for Democrats end up subsidizing states that vote for Republicans in terms of where our federal tax dollars go. At some point during this, the states that tend to elect Democrats and are building out all of these safety nets for their populations are going to get sick of doing that redistribution at the federal level. And so you’ll get everybody on board with shrinking the size of the federal government. And I think the real losers there are low and middle-income families who don’t find it easy to live.

Reshma Saujani:

Can’t afford to live in New York or California.

Betsey Stevenson:

Can’t pay the price, which would be the sacrifice, everything they know, in order to relocate to Washington State. So it’s not just the hot, expensive states, and also, there’s plenty of places in California that aren’t expensive to live. But picking up and leaving your community, particularly when you rely on your community, maybe for that low-cost childcare, the people who pick my kid up after school, that’s expensive for people. So forum shopping is a privilege, not something that everybody can do.

Tim Allen:

It’s the infrastructure. You’re nailing it, which is a lot of the infrastructure for individuals resides in their community, their parents live down the street, they are the childcare for when they’re at work, right? They’ve got to take care of the older generation, they can’t move away, they don’t get the mobility opportunity, which is going to further just create the divisionalization, I completely agree. It’s how do we avoid that end road? One of the things is you will see the states start to galvanize around their policies, the 50 states, you’ll have some who will flight out to those states who have the mobility option, but many who don’t. And then I guess it’s the advocacy that needs to happen on the local level, with people voting with their vote.  It’s the get-out-the-vote. It’s voting with our mouths, it’s actually creating community forums. Would you say that’s the big indicator of how to create it on a tapestry across the nation?

Betsey Stevenson:

I think that…

Reshma Saujani:

Or do we burn it all?

Tim Allen:

I’ve just stopped, I don’t know, like, it’s,

Betsey Stevenson:

Look, what we have to do when it comes to child care, and sort of other things for families, is we have to be getting our act together and finding a way to turn whatever weird political crisis creates an opening for us, and then moving as fast as possible to take advantage of that. And we will face a crisis with Social Security that is going to open up a whole can of worms around like, how do we fund retirement? How do we take care of older people? How do we take care of younger people? There, we could end up with a big recession; we could end up with a big world war like there are a lot of potential crises. It’s a time to make the case for investing; it’s being ready to make the case to invest in young people when there is that opportunity. It doesn’t feel like the opportunity is not there right now, like Build Back Better drop childcare, and we’re about to face — there’s not much happening in Congress. So we move things to the state level, and then we hope for a space to bring it back and to decide, ‘Hey, we want to look after young people.’ I’ll tell you a fact that’s like one of the most, to me is like hopeful but depressing facts, which is before Social Security, the population in the country that was most likely to be in poverty was older Americans, they were the most likely to be in poverty, then we passed Social Security. Now they’re the least likely to be in poverty. So who was the most likely to be in poverty? Children, then we passed the child tax credit as part of the American rescue plan, and child poverty fell in half. But we just let it go, so now we’re going to see big increase in children going back into poverty.

Reshma Saujani:

That’s depressing. It’s depressing.

Betsey Stevenson:

It’s depressing because what we really have to figure out is how do we give children more of a voice in our political system? We’ve lowered the voting age to 16. I don’t know!

Reshma Saujani:

Well, I would argue this is something we’re thinking through. I think the parents’ rights movement is kind of only something that right now exists on the right, and so we have to embrace it, like on all sides of the political spectrum, and build it.

Betsey Stevenson:

I totally agree, I totally agree.

Reshma Saujani:

And redefine what it means to have a parent’s agenda or a mom’s agenda, and that’s what we’re working on at Marshall Plan for Moms but it’s something interesting is that we’ve conceded that one side is the party of family values when that’s not the case and so we have to re-claim that.

Betsey Stevenson:

I completely agree. It’s horrifying to me the way that the right has been able to galvanize this parents’ rights movement, and then I can see why it’s successful. Like as a mom, I want control over what my kids– I’m a controlling mom. I’m like, ‘No, you weren’t watching this movie. No, you’re like doing this. Yes, you can breathe.’ In my household, my 13 daughter is allowed to read anything she wants, but I still won’t let her watch shows that like are. And I’m like, look, it’s totally different. Because video can make things look real and you become desensitized. If you have to use your imagination to imagine the sex or violence in the book I’m okay with it. But yeah, like, that’s great. I like having my freedom to make my rules for my kids on like– My kids laugh. I get so mad because one time at school when my daughter was in the second grade, someone showed her the Minions movie without my permission. Can you imagine Minions? And my kids are like, “Mom, what’s wrong with the Minions?” I was like, “Well, they’re really rude.”

Reshma Saujani

Hey Betsey, I’m making you a chapter ahead of one of my states conference.

Betsey Stevenson:

We need a movement on the left, which is like, we need to recognize that parents have preferences, that’s fine and give them space. But then also make sure that there’s space for the preferences of the parents on the left, I need my kids to know our full history. I need my kids to treat everybody with respect.

Reshma Saujani:

I want my kid to wear masks if he wants to wear a mask.

Betsey Stevenson:

Absolutely should be able to wear a mask if I say they should wear a mask. Who are you telling me my kid can’t wear a mask like it’s the exact parallel, but somehow they’re the party of parents’ rights, and my rights are getting stomped all over. My kid has to go to school with somebody who’s not vaccinated that’s a violation of my rights. So I don’t know how we like take back this idea that parents need to be supported, and that they need a party that’s doing what parents want. And even on childcare or early childhood education, like all the proposals that the Democrats have put out, have basically been choice proposals, school choice, but we don’t talk about it that way, and yet, we could have gotten a lot more, could have reached a lot farther into conservative, independent families by saying, ‘Look, we just want you to have the choice to put your kid in the childcare you want to put them in, but we want it to all be affordable.’

Tim Allen:

That’s right.

Reshma Saujani:

Yeah, that’s right. That’s exactly right.

Betsey Stevenson:

Yeah, we do need rebranding. Re-branding and re-marketing.

Reshma Saujani:

We do. Yeah, because we’re the majority, to be honest. Well, this is a great tip, because we have our political panel coming up next. But Betsey you gave us a lot of fodder to kind of start that conversation. So this has been such a treat and thank you so much.

Tim Allen:

Thank you, Betsey, for blowing my mind multiple times. Thank you.

Betsey Stevenson:

It’s great! Good to talk to you both!

Tim Allen:

Awesome! Thanks so much.

Reshma Saujani:

Bye Betsey!

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