Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to choose between having kids and being comfortable

A little-known element of President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal may be among its most important: $1 billion for child-care providers and new incentives for paid family leave.

Great challenges, such as wars and disasters, are plain to see and spur us into action as a nation. Others, such as the devastating opioid crisis, sneak up on us slowly like the proverbial frog in gradually heating water — we might not notice how dire our situation is until it’s too late.

Some are practically invisible, like the challenge facing would-be parents today.

It’s never been easy to be a working parent, but today, with rapidly increasing child-care costs and no guarantee of paid family leave, it’s harder than ever. The response of many millennials is to put off having kids — sometimes permanently — or to have fewer than they’d like.

Pennsylvanians are having kids at one of the lowest rates in the entire country. That’s heartbreaking. It means hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who will never know the joy of parenthood, and whose parents will never have grandchildren.

It’s not because young people are choosing to have fewer children, though. They simply can’t afford the expense, especially in the early stages of a child’s development, and in the early years of membership in the workplace when earnings tend to be lowest.

Don’t take my word for it — it’s what millennials themselves tell pollsters. Among people of childbearing age who wish they could have more kids, the leading reason, given by almost two-thirds of respondents in a 2018 survey, is that “childcare is too expensive.”

This is a significant issue in Pennsylvania, where child-care costs for two children are higher on average than rent. At $10,640 per year per child, the average Pennsylvania family can’t even afford full-time care for a single child, let alone a house full of kids.

Since the median income for a millennial is around $35,000, $10,000 represents almost a third of a typical single parent’s income before taxes. Additionally, young people also represent the greatest number of renters. After high housing costs, insurance, transportation, and utilities, there is barely enough left for food, much less a child. There are more millennials living in poverty than any previous generation.

And more millennial households are run by single women than any previous generation, meaning the majority of would-be mothers have to take time off work if they want to have kids.

Far too many women in the prime of their life are deferring pregnancy because they can’t make the financial sacrifice. They need to know — in the make-or-break moment of their careers — that their job will still be there after they’ve spent time with their newborn. They also need to know that child-care costs won’t bankrupt them once they do return to work.

As a country, we need to fix this. The best way to do that is with the methods that White House adviser Ivanka Trump urged President Trump to add to his FY 2020 White House budget request.

The one-time, $1 billion investment detailed in the budget plan, for instance, would push states expand the availability of affordable child-care. The President’s budget also calls for a minimum of six weeks of paid family leave for new mothers and fathers, including adoptive parents, which would enable them to spend time with their children during the most crucial phase of development.

Women shouldn’t have to make the choice between a job they love and starting or growing their family. Families everywhere should have access to affordable childcare so they can carry on their legacy instead of feeling as though they can “never afford kids.”

The future of Pennsylvania, and America, depends on it.