November 29th, 2021

Laying It Out: Affordable childcare is great, but the reason it’s finally here is not

By Scott Schmidt on November 19, 2021.

Not so long ago a narrative existed that women didn’t belong in the workplace, and aside from jobs typically associated with females, many thought it absurd when a married woman with children became interested in a ‘real’ career.

And while it’s lovely to imagine progression in this area over the years, or how we somewhat less often scoff at seeing women in roles ‘typically’ held by men, it’s hard in 2021 not to notice that having a career — regardless of gender — is not so much a privilege to be sought after but a mandatory means to an end.

What was once a fight for choice for all has become the complete absence of choice for most. It doesn’t matter if you want to work, because you have to work.

Our economic system, which we love to suggest is the greatest thing ever created, has evolved to where two incomes are required to cover the costs of what one once could. According to Stats Canada, two-income families nearly doubled from 1976-2015, and now represent more than 70% of households.

Of course, folks from the Fraser Institute say it’s all those taxes you pay (no, you don’t pay every business’s tax out of your personal income), but it should be noted that taxation as a percentage of a family’s income has actually gone down over the years.

It’s why each spring they use a figure from 1961 to stake bogus claims, because using a year before health care or a pension plan existed is the only way to show higher taxes six decades later — but I digress.

The point is, dollars don’t do what they used to, and in a capitalist society, depreciation has been, and always will be, an expanding issue.

And since we long ago gave permission to governments to tip scales toward corporate needs, we can forget policies that might force wages on par with productivity. But, as odd as the relationship turns out to be, employers can’t exploit employees so much they aren’t able to function, because the labour force is what keeps the system going. So, as we have in the past, we have to address systematic failures with stop-gap measures to keep the status quo.

This is what’s happening with childcare right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for affordable childcare, and if it were up to me, $10 a day would be viewed as too high. But its implementation would be more welcomed if one could confidently say this was about progressive claims made by the governments involved, instead of what it really is — a much needed gift to the economy.

Affordable childcare isn’t something governments ever cared about in the past, and it isn’t being introduced now because Prime Minister Trudeau, or anyone else, was flown in by the progressive fairies of Youmatterland.

It’s not even being introduced because of public pressure, which has been prominent since affordable childcare first appeared on a list of demands in the 1967 Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Sure, it was a Liberal election promise in 2021 but certainly not because the party finally got around to a 54-year-old ask.

This is happening because the economy needs it. And again, we should take it — this is not an argument against childcare — but it matters that two levels of government came together so parents could take their thousands in savings and put it back in the economy.

If a family in Edmonton pays $1,300 a month in childcare, that’s a lot of money not being recirculated, and the problem has become so widespread it’s now an economic crisis.

It’s a crisis for parents, no doubt, and that’s enough reason alone to be happy about the $3.8-billion-over-five-years deal Alberta signed with Ottawa last week. But it would be a mistake to assume their crisis would matter without the big picture of how a lack of family spending power affects the overall economy.

Just look at how money is currently being allocated. NDP childcare critic Rakhi Pancholi repeatedly asked Child Services Minister Rebecca Schulz this week why an existing $300 million hadn’t gone in any way toward wage increases for childcare workers, who in Alberta are paid among the lowest in Canada. Schulz, not surprisingly, never attempted to answer the question.

Why are wages not an issue for the UCP? Could it be that a lack of income for childcare workers doesn’t negatively affect the economy in the same way a lack of income for parents does?

What you make doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you can spend. In fact, the economy works best when people spend all they have, and governments don’t step in to help until “all they have” becomes not nearly enough.

So why does this matter? If it’s good for parents, good for families and good for the economy, why make these points? Shouldn’t we just celebrate a positive, progressive move by our governments?

Well, yes. And, no.

The reasons why they bring in childcare matter because, as was the evolution of wanting to work turning into having to work, eventually our economy will enter the crisis of spending power again. Eventually, affordable childcare won’t cut it, and families will be strapped for cash enough that another stop-gap measure is required.

When it does, we can all gather to marvel at the progressive nature of our governments of that day, but at some point, somewhere along the way, it might serve us better to address the problematic system instead of constantly having to solve the problems the system provides.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. He can be reached at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com

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