Now is the time for universal day care in New York City

By Tom Allon

For more than 50 years, the increasing income inequality gap has dominated policy discussions in this country.

After a post-World War II economic boom, all boats rose in America and the middle class grew dramatically, much like it has in developing countries like China and India in the last decade.

But since the catastrophic Reagan tax cuts in the early 1980s, the only slice of society that has benefited from cyclical economic booms is the top 10 percent. Never before has the yawning gap between rich and poor been so noticeable.

While this economic divergence deepened, we also saw the rise of feminism and the two-income family, probably the biggest boon for those upper-middle-class families who can afford quality child care.

So what can be done to slow the income inequality gap and help us get back to the American dream of everyone having the opportunity to move up the economic ladder?

There is a relatively simple solution: universal day care.

Think of it: If we can provide all families with quality, subsidized day care — from infancy to kindergarten — then we will be unleashing a huge dose of talent into our workforce (who will pay taxes and thus fund this subsidized day care) while at the same time helping all families to properly care for the next generation.

In addition to helping the economy and working parents, there will be another huge benefit: allowing for economic justice for women.

Despite some progress on the domestic front, it is still disproportionately women who must sacrifice their careers to care for newborns until they are ready for school.

Even when children are of school age, they only attend classes for nine months a year, and for only a fraction of the work day, which means that parents (mostly moms) still need to pick up children and ferry them to and from after-school activities.

This disruption in the careers of women is the main reason women are paid only 79 percent of what men make in comparable jobs.

With universal day care, single mothers (a growing group) and working moms in double-income families will benefit in a big way.

European countries, including France, have universal day care, so there’s a precedent for this working.

Our mayor has successfully championed and implemented universal pre-K. That is certainly a step in the right direction.

But now is the time to go all the way: Let’s introduce universal day care in New York to show the rest of the country how this seemingly easy public policy change can revolutionize our city and help boost working moms.

Tom Allon is the president of City & State, NY. Questions or comments: tallon@cityandstateny.com

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