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Deborah Copaken Kogan Headshot

Dear Almost President-Elect Obama

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Dear Almost President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations. I'm sure you're going to be very busy over the next few days coming down from the high of winning and finding the socks you left in Buffalo and building your cabinet and all, but I'm busy, too, and that's what I'd like to talk to you about. As I write this, my 2-year-old is asleep in the other room. Why? Because his daycare center has a day off for the elections. So basically, I figure you owe me.

We need government-subsidized daycare. As in yesterday. We're one of the only industrialized nations in the world that doesn't meet this most basic need for its working families. You think all those mothers are "opting out" or going on welfare because they want to spend 24 hours a day building Tinkertoy castles with their children? Tinkertoy again! They can't afford to go back to work. To wit: the average urban babysitter today costs around $15 an hour, or at least that's the number here in New York, and I don't really have time to look it up because I have three kids and too many jobs. In San Jose, CA, where my sister Jennifer lives, they cost $22 an hour. Since a full-time employee needs 50 hours of childcare coverage to work a 40-hour week, that comes out to $750 a week in my neighborhood and $1100 a week in my sister's. Multiply that by 52 weeks, and you're paying $39,000 a year, out of pocket, in New York and $57,200 to a sitter in San Jose. Which means you have to earn at least twice that (approximately $80,000 a year in New York and a whopping $114,000 a year in San Jose) just to break even.

Yes, there are group daycare options -- we use an excellent one for our baby -- but even those cost upwards of $20,000 a year, and they're often so hard to find and/or get into, lots of parents just throw in the towel. (Leo was our third, so I knew I had to sign him up when I was only 12 weeks pregnant. We're talking not even showing. Nevertheless, he was put on a waiting list until he turned one.) Even Google, which used to subsidize childcare costs for its workers, now charges $22,000 a year for each child. My friend Kim, who works there, told me that. Again, I'd look it up to verify, but who has time? I trust Kim. You can ask her yourself.

Compare these figures to those of my friend Marion, who lives in Paris, France, where excellent government-subsidized childcare is available to all on a sliding scale according to one's salary, meaning she pays far less per month for full-time childcare than I pay per week for mine. Also? Her childcare workers earn much higher yearly salaries than those of the women taking care of my son, and believe me, for the kind of poopy diaper work they do, they should be paid better than those bank CEO's who got us into this whole mortgage-backed security doo doo in the first place. Plus, as an added bonus, Marion's daughter Lulu's ears, eyes and nose are checked every Friday, gratis, by a pediatrician who comes into her school and doles out antibiotics to those with strep or other contagious infections. Which makes excellent business sense, if you think about it. As do the practically free birth control pills Marion can take to keep from having too many little Lulus.

You want to know why we Americans are hocked up to our ears in debt? Yes, we shouldn't have been spending money on all that shiny stuff we didn't need, but we also should not have been handing over our entire paycheck to the babysitter.

We simply cannot afford to live like this anymore. Problem is, those of us in the thick of the childcare years don't have time to storm the barricades. We're too busy earning a living to hand over to our babysitters. Speaking of which, my son just woke up. Call me later?

Love, Deb

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