Give Grandma a break!

Kyle Mirecki’s article “Here Comes the Boom!” (Feb. 16, 2011) argued that “with a growing number of seniors, a small birth rate, and with senior public expenditures costing 2.5 times more than youth expenditures, a national child care program [ . . . ] is simply not what Canadians are going to need.” I respectfully disagree. Child care may not be what Canadians are going to need the most, but it’s still too important of an issue to brush off as “silly,” particularly to Canadian women.

The issue at hand is that the aging baby boomers will require more tax revenue to fund the social and health programs they will need to use in the near future. It makes perfect sense that these programs will need more resources to meet demand, but to propose that significant funding does not also need to go towards child care because seniors will outnumber children is not looking at the issue closely enough.

Because of numerous factors, the birthrate in Canada has been below replacement level for over 30 years. With fewer children being born and more and more baby boomers reaching retirement age, the tax base is actively shrinking. This is a recognized problem, but apart from raising immigration rates or raising taxes, the next best answer has been to increase the percentage of Canadians who work. Progressively, individuals newly entering the workforce have been women, either by choice or out of necessity.

In 2006, Statistics Canada noted that women made up 47 per cent of the workforce, up from 37 per cent in 1976. This addresses the previous problem to an extent, but creates another: more women working outside the home means more demand for child care. Sixty-six per cent of mothers with children under six are employed. In this instance, it does not matter how high the national birthrate is; someone still needs to take care of a woman’s children if she works, and since stay-at-home fathers are still in the minority, funding for child care is needed now more than ever.

By 2002-03, 54 per cent of children were in some form of child care, an increase of 12 per cent in just eight years. In the same amount of time, the number of kids in day cares rose eight per cent to form a total of 28 per cent of children overall in child care. Usage of day cares is higher in urban settings (30 per cent) and for those parents with low incomes (42 per cent).

In response to Mirecki’s suggestion that baby boomer grandparents will have more time to babysit in their retirement, that is certainly true and the numbers reflect that more parents are taking advantage of that availability. The number of children cared for by relatives either outside or inside their own homes both grew, but the choice of the majority is neither relatives nor day cares: a full 30 per cent of children in care are looked after by non-relatives outside the home. This often means informal arrangements in unregulated settings.

The advantage of having relatives watch one’s children is that such services are often free, but this option is not always available due to geographic location, poor health of relatives or availability. In a perfect world, parents would be able to choose by whom and where their children are cared for, but the reality is that the option chosen is often whichever one parents can afford or wherever a space is available, something in short supply with day care wait-lists hundreds of names long.

Is a national child care program, like the one proposed by the Liberals in 2006 and recently revived by the party’s current leadership, the best solution to the problem of high costs and low availability? Paul Martin called for $5 billion to be given to the provinces over a period of 10 years to build infrastructure and expand existing programs. When the Conservatives came into power that plan was scrapped, and they instead created the Universal Child Care Benefit, which issues taxable, monthly $100 payment to families with children under six, as well as made grants and tax cuts available to business and community groups in order to encourage the creation of more day care spaces.

Stephen Harper justified going this route by saying that with the payment each family “can choose the child care option that best suits [their] need.” Don’t get me wrong, “choice” is great, but it doesn’t create anything concrete like infrastructure or more available spaces, or train more early childhood educators. It’s money being thrown away, especially when $100 a month is a drop in the bucket of what child care actually costs, which is several hundred dollars per month and can reach into the thousands, depending on the city and how many children a family has.

We’re taking care of seniors by giving them government safety nets — public health care, Old Age Security and the Canadian Pension Plan. We’ve long since realized as a country that socialization is welcome in the case of programs that benefit the elderly — in fact, we rely on them so much that we need to fund them further. Why then can the same not work for the young in the form of a national child care program? Do we really have to wait until the baby boomers are gone and today’s working parents are seniors themselves to get the government to invest in child care?

Let’s work together to making working parenthood easier.

Meredith Holigroski is the Design Editor at the Manitoban and aims to try to “have it all.”

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