By Kathryn White
My Love Story
Sometimes, the best motivation for policy reform starts with a love story.
Growing up, both of my parents worked outside of our home full time. My brother, sister and I were extremely blessed and privileged to have Martha live with us during our young years – to help our parents care for us.
Martha has a heart of gold. She has always been a role model for me because of her kindness, care, and hard work ethic. Previously a pharmacist in Durango, Mexico, Martha came to California in 1989 to earn money to send her four children to great schools and universities back home.
Martha’s children would visit us from Durango from time to time, and it was a lot of fun to play with them. Two of Martha’s daughters eventually settled in Southern California and started families of their own.
Martha has left an imprint on my heart and will always be very special to me. Because of her presence in our home, I was lucky to grow up with Mexican culture. Later in life, I was proud to discover that my maternal grandfather was born in Mexico City and immigrated to the US in the 1940s when he was 34, meaning that I shared Martha’s heritage too.
When Martha’s youngest son graduated from university with a degree in architecture, she returned to Durango. I was 12 when she moved out of our home, and I still remember crying as she drove away down the road with her things packed in the back of her car. This marked the end of the era of my sweet childhood with Martha.
Challenges in Play
Childhood memories with Martha spark beautiful feelings for me. But, over the years, I’ve reflected on the challenges that those around me faced. We have the power to solve some of these through policy reform.
- Once Martha returned to Mexico, I was able to visit her on several occasions with ease, but, due to uncertainty around being able to move back and forth at the US border, Martha’s daughters haven’t seen her for over 15 years. This is not right.
- Secondly, the childcare system in the United States is still a disappointment, to say the least. Not only are employers not required to give paid family leave, but we are also the only rich country that provides no childcare options or supplements. The US Treasury Department recently noted that the US contributes “woefully little” to early childhood education and care compared to other developed nations. As a result, parents have to shoulder the bulk of those expenses. Meanwhile, we sit dumbfounded by our declining birth rates.
- Most crucially, we must better care for immigrant women and men whose shoulders we stand on. Child care workers have long been underpaid and given fewer benefits like health insurance, according to a November 2021 report from the Economic Policy Institute.1
The pandemic has reminded people that childcare is a linchpin of our economy. American mothers can’t join the workforce without it.
Au Pair Program Reform
I believe that we have an opportunity to fill the US childcare gap by increasing immigration, especially for our fellow North Americans in Mexico and Central Americans who desire the opportunity to work in the US. I propose a reform of the current au pair program, which is currently a cultural exchange program for young women managed by the US Department of State. The au pair program should rather be managed by the United States Department of Labor so that working conditions and benefits can be regulated for immigrant childcare workers. Further, the au pair program should be open to women of all ages, especially those who seek asylum or economic opportunity. I believe that many migrants would make wonderful childcare workers, and the people seeking work could readily meet our demand for childcare in the US.
Womens’ Labor Criticality to US Competitiveness
Childcare reform is especially important because when a parent drops out of the workforce, reduces hours, or takes a lower-paying job early in their careers—even temporarily—there are lifetime consequences on their earnings, savings, and retirement. These costs are especially significant for mothers and people of color, exacerbating inequality and harming the economic security of American families. In fact, 91 percent of the income gains experienced by middle-class families over the last forty years were driven by women’s earnings.2
If women are able to enter the labor market and increase the hours they work because of child care reform, the unconditional average earnings among working-age women would increase, narrowing the earnings gap between men and women.3 Further, according to research by Moody’s Corp., improved childcare policies could result in a $1 trillion boost to gross domestic product in the United States by 2028.4
I wish for every child to have the same experiences that I had during my childhood with Martha—feeling loved by her and her family, learning another language, and getting exposure to a new culture and its values. And I wish for every American mother to have the opportunity to be a mother while also making a life and career for herself.
Kathryn White is part of the MPA Class of 2022 at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. She studied International Relations and Spanish in undergrad at USC. Since then, Kathryn has worked as a technology consultant for Accenture and has had the privilege to work on several innovation and capacity building projects in Brazil and other parts of Latin America. In her current work as an Accenture Fellow at the World Economic Forum, Kathryn engages with a community of experts around issues related to digital currencies and their impact on the world, including their value for cross-border aid disbursement, economic impacts, and considerations for technical design and responsible rollout. In her free time, Kathryn loves to travel.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Berkeley Public Policy Journal, the Goldman School of Public Policy, or UC Berkeley.
- Alicia Wallace, C. (2022). Child care workers are vanishing and it’s hurting the entire economy. Retrieved 21 February 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/28/economy/child-care-labor-force-declines/index.html
- “FACT SHEET: The American Families Plan | The White House”. The White House, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/28/fact-sheet-the-american-families-plan/. Accessed 21 Feb 2022.
- Nwlc.Org, 2022, https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/A-Lifetimes-Worth-of-Benefits-_FD.pdf. Accessed 21 Feb 2022.
- Bloomberg.Com, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-08/paid-leave-and-universal-child-care-could-boost-u-s-gdp-by-1-trillion. Accessed 20 Mar 2022.