Unlike most developed nations, America has never treated care of its youngest children as a public good worthy of significant public investment, especially in relation to K-12 public education. That’s to the detriment of children, their families, and the hundreds of thousands of (mostly) women who work in the field.

Indeed, the pandemic highlighted the vast gulf in America that separates K-12 teachers from many child-care professionals when it comes to pay, job protection, and respect. It is a disparity rooted in race, class, gender, and nativism. More than 90 percent of those who work with the youngest children are female — about 1 in 55 American women in the workforce — more than a third are people of color, and they are more likely to be immigrants and come from lower-income backgrounds than public school teachers.

It is also rooted in history. “I argue it started in 1619,” with the free care that enslaved people were forced to provide for infants and toddlers, says Maurice Sykes, senior associate at the Early Childhood Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. “K-12 is seen as part of the public good whereas child care is seen as part of the service industry.”

The irony, of course, is that modern child care is far from free. But that’s not because the workers are making high wages — or even living wages, in many instances. It’s because of the comparative lack of public investment.

The average European Union country spends $4,700 per child from infancy to age 5 — a number that climbs to $7,400 in France — compared with just $2,400 in the United States, according to a new US Department of the Treasury report.

Read the full article about the child care system by Sarah Carr at The Hechinger Report.