Wednesday, November 25, 2015

When child care givers can’t afford child care

Thanksgiving is around the corner. Today my two-and-half-year-old came home from his day care with a thankful turkey. Thankful turkey, you know, the classic construction paper turkey lists what children are thankful for. So we had this conversation.

“Mama, look at my turkey!”
“Beautiful! And what’s this?”
“Things I xiexie for.”
“And what do you xiexie for?”
“Udon noodle soup.”
“…Anything else?”
“Mommy and Daddy.”

See what's on the red feather? "Noodles." 
So my little one is especially thankful for udon noodle soup. As for myself, I am especially thankful for my child’s day care teachers. (I’m thankful for udon noodle soup, too... It’s what served on our dinner table on those days I run late at work and don’t have time to cook.) Last year around this time, our previous day care center went bankruptcy. I received the notice while on business trip. It was really a disaster. I rushed back home, and we experienced a chaos before finding this new center and my child actually falls in love with it.

We are in an era of curating children rather than simply raising them, and child care is recognized as one of the society’s most treasured and fussed over resources. That’s why it upset me when I recently learned that while many people can’t afford childcare, childcare givers aren’t paid enough to make rent.

The U.S. child care system has serious problems.

A recent research found that, in the majority of U.S. states, child care costs more than rent. Because such a sizable portion of parents’ paychecks goes toward care, people would expect it’s an lucrative industry. Yet the reality is, most of the child care workers aren’t even making a comfortable living.

In a new analysis, economists at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that child care workers are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. On average, child care professionals made $10.31 an hour in 2014, which is 39% less than the average workers in the U.S., who earns an average $17 an hour. Moreover, most of child care workers don’t receive job-based benefits. In 2014, just 15% of them had health insurance and only 9% of them had pensions.

It takes more than a third of pre-school workers’ earnings to cover infant care costs in D.C. and 32 states. Considering the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ official affordability threshold for child care cost, which is 10% or less of a family’s income, most of the child care givers cannot afford child care themselves. It is ironic and not fair.

It’s clear that workers in the industry are not overpaid. Who, then, to blame for the inaccessibility of child care? 

According to the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), it’s the government. Over-regulation and lack of government support leads to a shortage of supply. Starting a child care business is so complex and involves so much hoop-jumping that entrepreneurs and small business owners are deterred from doing so, according to FEE. It also explains the bankruptcy of our previous day care center.

Caring for kids is so important that this kind of problem should not be overlooked. As a 2014 white book from the Berkeley Center pointed out, early childhood education should be a public good. Just like public education, not every has to use it, but it should be there.

For now, let’s be thankful for our early childhood education workers and hope for the Strong Start for America’s Children Act will bring us some hope.

“So do you xiexie your teachers?” I asked my little one.

“Yeah. I LOVE them. ”

This is an original post to MomsRising.org by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to To-wen Tseng. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Life Lesson Behind My Latest Children's Book

My 4th book (and 2nd children’s book) was out in the public in paperback this August. Now I finally have some time to sit down and write a few words about this brain child of mine.


I was somewhat a lucky kid. At age 13 (same as Xiao-Hong, the book’s heroine) I had two dreams: one was to be an anchorwoman, the other was to write a book.

At age 30 both of my dreams had come true. I was anchoring at an Asian-language TV station serving Southern California, I had my own TV news magazine titled “To-wen’s World Report,” and my first book “No Trivial Matter—The Story Behind News” was just published.
It was only when my dreams came true that I realized the reality of being an anchor and an author was not what I dreamed of. 
Through the years I’ve been to Haiti after earthquake and Mexico during drug war, witnessing the Hell on Earth that I couldn’t even imagine as a child. I experienced the bankruptcy of the TV station and the suicide of close colleagues. I have shared a bowl of noodle soup with a child prostitute in a police station in Taipei and split a taco with a homeless teenager in a tent in downtown San Diego.
I didn’t dream of all of these. I only dreamed of dressing up nicely, sitting glamorously, and speaking eloquently in front of a camera. 
A couple of years ago I was invited to give a “Anchor Kid” lesson at a summer camp. I saw many of those children longing for my job, but only for the beautiful part. I didn’t know how to tell them what they dreamed of wasn’t really what they dreamed of. I started to think.

The book, “Xiao-Hong the Anchor Girl,” was the result of my thinking. Thirteen-year-old Xiao-Hong made a wish and woke up the next day as a 30-year-old anchorwoman. And the rest of the story is my life story.

Xiao-Hong had to wake up at 3:00 AM and get ready for the morning news…because I had to when working at a TV station. Xiao-Hong and her partner, A-Jun, struggled with the decision to save a drowning child, or continue shooting the segment…because I struggled 12 years ago on my very first day at work. I will never forget the teenage boy who drowned to death. He taught me a precious lesson on my first day of being a reporter.

I summarized my whole career life in this children’s book with merely 10,000 Chinese words. I want to tell my young readers, yes, this seems to be glamorous work, but what lies behind it is cruelty probably beyond your imagination. 

I want to tell my young readers why we, as journalists, can stand fast at our posts without regrets. It is not because we get to dress up nicely and sit glamorously in front of a camera. It is because we get to see the suffering firsthand; therefore we realized how lucky we ourselves are and what a great responsibility we have to bring what was cast aside to the world’s attention.

I also want to tell my young readers, if you still long for the job, even just for the beautiful part, please remember that at the very same moment you grab the freedom of press in your hand, the social responsibility falls on your shoulders automatically.

This is just a children’t book. And I only wish the kids who happen to read the book will bring us the finest journalism in the years to come.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Tzu Chi Foundation.