Last night during the final Democratic presidential debate before the Iowa Caucuses next month, child care became one of the rare unifying issues among the 2020 contenders. Debate moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel of the Des Moines Register brought up the issue and asked a question of Mayor Pete Buttigieg on behalf of a young mother who was forced to leave her job due to a lack of access to affordable, quality child care.
Following Mayor Buttigieg’s response, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Former Vice President Joe Biden were also given an opportunity to weigh in.
While much of the night revolved around the candidates’ differences and disagreements, the discussion around child care was one where each presidential hopeful focused on the overwhelming burden American families face in finding and affording quality care. They also touched on the undeniable research backing up the need to ensure children from birth through age five – particularly those living in poverty – have access to high-quality early learning opportunities to support their healthy development.
Watch this video of the discussion, and read the official CNN transcript of the full exchange below.
PFANNENSTIEL: We’re going to turn now to childcare, a huge expense for many new families and a problem that’s especially acute in rural Iowa. We have another question for an Iowa Democratic voter.
Mayor Buttigieg, this is for you. Tiffany from Clive writes, as a young mom, I had to quit a job I love because childcare costs were taking up two-thirds of my income. Many families don’t have the option of quitting a job because that little bit of income is needed. That leads to families using whatever care they can find, and sometimes the results are deadly, as we’ve seen in Iowa over the last few years. How will you prioritize accessing quality, affordable child care in your first 100 days in office?
BUTTIGIEG: It makes no sense for childcare to cost two-thirds of somebody’s income. We’ve to drive it to 7 percent or below, and zero for those families who are living in poverty.
But this is happening to folks at every level of the income spectrum. I meet professionals who sometimes say that they’re working in order to be able to afford childcare in order to be able to be working. It makes no sense, and it must change, and we shouldn’t be afraid to put federal dollars into making that a reality.
Subsidizing childcare and making sure that we are building up a workforce of people who are paid at a decent level to offer early childhood education, as well as childcare writ large. We can do that.
And until we do, this will be one of the biggest drivers of the gender pay gap. Because when somebody like the voter asking the question has to step out of the workforce because of that reason, she is at a disadvantage when she comes back in, and that can affect her pay for the rest of her career.
PFANNENSTIEL: Senator Warren, your education plan includes tuition- free public college for all, but you impose an income limit for free childcare. Why do your plans cover everyone for public college, but not childcare and early learning?
WARREN: No, actually, my plan is universal childcare for everyone. It just has some people adding a small payment.
But understand this about the plan.
I’ve been there. You know, I remember when I was a young mom. I had two little kids, and I had my first real university teaching job. It was hard work. I was excited. But it was childcare that nearly brought me down. We went through one childcare after another, and it just didn’t work.
If I hadn’t been saved by my Aunt Bee — I was ready to quit my job. And I think about how many women of my generation just got knocked off the track and never got back on, how many of my daughter’s generation get knocked off the track and don’t get back on, how many mamas and daddies today are getting knocked off the track and never get back on.
I have a two cent wealth tax so that we can cover childcare for all of our children, and provide universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4- year-old in America, and stop exploiting the people who do this valuable work, largely black and brown women. We can raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in America. That’s an investment in our babies. That’s an investment in their mamas and their daddies. And it’s an investment in our teachers and in our economy.
PFANNENSTIEL: Senator Sanders, will your…
WARREN: It’s what we need to do.
PFANNENSTIEL: … universal childcare program be free for everyone regardless of income?
SANDERS: Yeah. Let me pick up on this childcare thing. Every psychologist in the world knows zero through 4 are the most important years of human life, intellectually and emotionally. And yet our current childcare system is an embarrassment, it is unaffordable. Childcare workers are making wages lower than McDonald’s workers.
We need to fundamentally change priorities in America. We should not be one of a few countries that does not have universal high-quality affordable childcare. We should not be one of the only major countries not to guarantee health care to all people as a human right. We should not be spending more than the 10 next countries on the military, hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, tax breaks for billionaires, and then tell the moms and dads in this country we cannot have high-quality affordable childcare.
PFANNENSTIEL: Thank you, Senator. Vice President Biden, I’m coming to you now.
SANDERS: That is wrong.
PFANNENSTIEL: Vice President Biden, infant care is more expensive than in-state public college tuition in more than half the country. Do you support free universal infant care?
BIDEN: There should be free universal infant care, but here’s the deal. You know, I was a single parent, too. When my wife and daughter were killed, my two boys I had to raise. I was a senator, a young senator. I just hadn’t been sworn in yet. And I was making $42,000 a year.
I commuted every single solitary day to Wilmington, Delaware, over 500 miles a day — excuse me, 250 miles a day, because I could not afford but for my family childcare. It was beyond my reach to be able to do it. And that’s why there are several things we do. When I triple the
amount of money for Title I schools, every child, 3, 4, and 5 years old, will, in fact, have full schooling. They’ll go to school and after-school programs, which will release some of the burden.
Secondly, I think we should have an $8,000 tax credit which would put 7 million women back to work that could afford to go to work and still care for their children as an $8,000 tax credit. I also believe that we should, in fact, for people who, in fact, are not able to afford any of the infant care to be able to get that care.
But Bernie’s right. We have to raise the salaries of the people who are doing the care. And I provide for that, as well. My time is up, I know, but I’m not going to go over like everybody.