While Trump Dumps on Women, Clinton Lifts Parents and Kids

05/11/2016 01:23 pm ET Updated May 12, 2017

While Donald Trump has spent much of the last week insulting all women by saying that the "only thing" one of America's most accomplished public servants has "going for her" is the "women's card," Hillary Clinton spent Tuesday promoting a bold new proposal to make quality affordable child care available to all of America's families.

The contrast could not be more clear. While the presumptive Republican nominee for president does little but talk about himself and trash others, both Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Clinton have been talking about the issues that matter to America's working and middle-class families.

Clinton's child care announcement is a case in point. Her proposal is a declaration that America has a child care crisis and it's up to the next president to do something about it.

The numbers that measure this crisis are staggering. While the cost of care has nearly doubled since 1997, real wages have stayed the same. Today, the average annual cost of care for one infant and one four-year old in a child care center ranges from $15,409 in the South to $22,513 in the Northeast - more than the median rent in every state. The average cost of infant care exceeds annual tuition and fees for a public-four-year university in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

For low-wage workers, these costs make it impossible to get care. A full-time worker making the national median minimum wage of $7.75 per hour has to work three-quarters of a year just to pay for the annual costs of care for a one-year-old.

A cornerstone of Secretary Clinton's proposal is capping child care expenses at no more than 10 percent of a family's income. This won't just change the lives of every working parent (and their children), it will also help the economy by increasing women's labor force participation enough to boost GDP roughly $210 billion.

A second reason Clinton's plan is such a big deal is that it spotlights the need to raise the pay of the educators who provide child care and early learning, workers who are 95 percent women, and disproportionately workers of color.

To say child care providers are underpaid is a gross understatement. The median hourly wage for a child care worker is $9.77, 44 percent below the $17.40 median hourly wage of workers in other occupations. That means the average provider makes only $20,320 per year, nearly $4,000 below the poverty level for a family of four. 75 percent of child care workers live below the poverty level. Nearly half are paid so little, they are forced to rely on public assistance for basic necessities like food, health care, and housing.

These numbers are shocking and unconscionable. They're also not good for our kids. Study after study has shown that fair wages and working conditions are key predictors of high-quality care and child success. That's a basic formula that's just plain wrong to ignore.

In fairness, Trump does have a child care proposal. As Think Progress reported back in December, when asked by a member of the Make It Work Campaign about his thoughts on child care he said, "I love children." And continued: "It's a big subject darling." Years before running for President, Trump offered more developed, and characteristically sexist, policy prescriptions, saying that raising children is women's work and that men shouldn't change diapers, although they should "supply the funds."

By talking about the child care crisis on the campaign trail, Secretary Clinton is bringing much-needed attention to this daily struggle for a majority of America's families, and her proposal is an important step in the conversation about how we help people juggle the demands of work and family in our ever-changing economy.

Without real policy changes and a significant investment in our children, we risk making the ability to raise a family a privilege only the wealthy few can afford. That's not how we "make America great again." That's how we deny the American dream to the vast majority of people working hard to get by in this country.

This election shouldn't be about the past, about looking backward and going backwards. It should be about the future. And that's what's at stake - building an America that's even better than the one we have now, a country that lives up to its promise where everyone in our country can earn a decent living and have a decent life.

Ethan Rome is the executive director of the Child Care and Early Learning Action Hub, a network of parents, providers, and educators united for high-quality child care and pre-K for all families, and a minimum of $15/hour and a union for all workers in the industry.