My View: Support our state's 'care economy'
My story is all too common. I'm someone who played by the rules. I have a college degree. I pay my taxes. I own my home. I'm considered middle class. And yet, I can't afford child care for my child.
Last month I was asked to take part in the launch of a new project called Oregon CareWorks. The project is aimed at raising the value of care in Oregon. Moms and dads, child care workers, home care workers, seniors and people with disabilities, we are all part of the "care economy" and, right now, that economy is in crisis.
When my daughter was born, I felt extremely grateful to get eight weeks of paid maternity leave. I was the sole provider of our family of three, and money was tight. I often relied on my credit card to make the monthly budget work. If it weren't for paid leave, I would have had to return to work the day after giving birth in order to avoid getting evicted.
Most women are not so lucky. In fact, only 13 percent of Americans are guaranteed paid leave when they have a baby.
Like so many people, I struggled with the cost of child care. According to a recent study released by Oregon CareWorks, the average single-income family in Oregon would need to spend 51 percent of its paycheck to afford child care. To put that another way, the average tuition at a day care center in Oregon is higher than tuition at U of O.
Currently, I'm considering offering free rent to a roommate in exchange for child care, but simply having rent covered is not enough money for someone to watch my child. We all know that providing child care is incredibly valuable and we should be supporting the people who do this work. It makes all other work possible.
What attracted me to the Oregon CareWorks project is that it includes both the care consumer — people like me — and care workers. I realize that both the underpaid workers and I are caught in the same trap.
The average child care worker earns just $9.30 per hour. That low wage leads to high turnover and poor-quality care. This is true in senior care and support work for people with disabilities. Making sure that care provider jobs are good jobs is an important part of improving the care systems here in Oregon.
The other side of the coin is reducing the cost of care. I'm not alone in struggling to afford care. Thousands of seniors in Oregon are forced to live in poverty due to the rising costs of senior care. People with disabilities who rely on Medicaid struggle to keep up with the rising costs of the personal support they rely on.
We need to make investments in the care economy in order to create good jobs and make care more affordable and accessible to people like me. The time to act is now.