Pushing for radically different child care system

Common Start bill would be life-changing for many mothers

NATALIE IS a multiracial single mother raising a young son with autism in the greater Boston area. In my job at Economic Mobility Pathways, I work with women like her to help them advocate for themselves and other families struggling to make ends meet. Recently, as Natalie told me a story about having to choose between paying for child care or being evicted, I imagined what her life could look like if she had her son five years from now.

In that version of the future – if a bill currently before the Massachusetts Legislature passes this year – the child care landscape for the families EMPath works with would look radically different. Following a phase-in period of five years, the law would establish a system of affordable, high-quality early education and care for children up to age 12. For the women we coach on their journey to economic independence, this would be nothing short of life changing—especially since Massachusetts ranks second in the US for most expensive child care costs.

Consider that if Natalie had a child in 2026, she would pay no more than 7 percent of her income for high quality child care. Finding and securing a spot for her son would be straightforward. When she dropped him off each morning, she could rest easy, knowing he was getting the support he needed to thrive.

Instead, the reality for Natalie is much different. Though she applied for child care assistance when her son was an infant, she heard nothing until he was three. In between, she relied on an unreliable patchwork of friends and family. Still shaken, she recalls the time when no one came to collect her son from the bus, so instead he just rode along as the driver completed his route. By the time she got to him, he was soaked in urine and sweat.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts lawmakers will be one step closer to deciding which version of the future to provide to our youngest residents and their families. They will hear from Natalie and other powerful voices  in support of Senate bill 362 and House bill 605, also known as the Common Start bill.

For years now, decision-makers in Massachusetts and across the United States have heard how important it is for children to get quality care—especially in the critical years of development from birth to age three. Nurturing care plays an important role in helping children reach their full potential. It helps them build better relationships with peers and caregivers, boosts their language development, and provides a solid foundation for learning throughout life.

If decision-makers find economic arguments more persuasive, the data could not be clearer. Child care is the linchpin that working people—especially women—rely on to provide for their families. As the pandemic has made abundantly clear, when women lack reliable childcare, they are often forced to choose between their job and caring for their children.

This is why women’s workforce participation has plummeted to a low not seen since the 1970s. It is why women have been slower to rejoin the workforce, draining $64.5 billion in wages and productivity from families and our economy. And while inaccessible or unaffordable child care is an issue for families from all backgrounds, Black and Latina women, especially those working low-wage jobs, are hit the hardest of all.

At this point, it is no longer a question of adequate evidence or additional research. Public opinion polls have found robust, bipartisan support for making child care more affordable— with no risk to lawmakers for taking action. Ultimately, investing in early childhood is a matter of will.

Meet the Author

Chelsea Sedani

Director of advocacy, Economic Mobility Pathways
To legislators, we ask: which future will you choose? Will you back the status quo of a broken system—where working women must choose between rent and child care, our economy loses out on their valuable labor, and a young child can be left wet, frightened, and alone on a bus? Or will you listen to Natalie, knowing thousands like her are counting on you to give working families the support they need to flourish in the years to come?

Chelsea Sedani is director of advocacy at Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath).