I was recently speaking with a young person born in 1988. For practical reasons, we will refer to them as “Alex.”

Between the banter and cordial laughter at a comfortable six feet, Alex and I began discussing the difficulties they faced in being a Millennial. As a Boomer myself, I was very intrigued to see how their experiences compared to symbolic events life, the Cold war, the Kennedy Assassinations, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and the Moon Landing readily in mind. 

However, to my surprise, when Alex began to recount events like the collapse of the USSR, the AIDS Crisis, 9/11, the Great Recession, the #MeToo Movement, the Black Lives Matter Movement, or the Coronavirus, etc., it was not their own hardship that was the source of their frustration, but the hardship of others. 

Being the oldest of five children to a “not very present” single-working mother, my young conversationalist took on the responsibility of helping raise their brothers and sisters at an early age. In doing so, Alex took on the difficult task of navigating their formative teen years while having to clean, feed, teach, reprimand, and console four younger siblings. After listing many historical events of the 90s, I better understood the source of Alex’s frustration. Often forced to decide between the betterment of Alex’s siblings, and later Alex’s own children, or self-betterment. Contrary to my immediate critic of slight selfishness, Alex described instances where they would try to volunteer or work but was unable because childcare was not an option. 

Like so many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and grandparents across our state, Alex was restricted by the availability or affordability of adequate childcare. According to the Economic Policy Institute, as of 2019, the median family income in Texas was $59,440, with an average annual infant care cost of $9,324. Additionally, Full-time minimum wage salary in Texas is $15,080 annually, and the median childcare worker’s annual salary is only $22,070. My only question responding to those figures: why is childcare, a necessity to a vast majority of Americans, nearly inaccessible due to financial constraints? – and why are childcare providers paid so little?

In contrast, the events I listed from my youth held the theme of national distress. Perhaps a consequence of my years in the Army, I had recalled global events that impacted the United States as a nation. The major events Alex listed maintained the theme of an inability to care for those Alex was responsible for, while simultaneously, advancing Alex’s life in the best way that Alex saw fit. Like so many Texans, Alex was faced with either being there for the family or providing for the family, and I believe that contradicts a fundamental idea of being American.

There are numerous reasons why Texas’s systems don’t facilitate good childcare: I. Texas is very large, and transportation can be an issue. II. The minimum wage in Texas is far below the national average, which means that often those who need childcare are barely paid enough to afford it. III. The average salary for a childcare provider in Texas is miniscule compared to other large states, which means that our high demand for childcare is being met with insufficient workforce to fulfill it. 

Because of these factors and others, Texas has developed severe “childcare deserts.” A childcare desert is identified when there is extraordinary little access to subsidized childcare. The Center for American Progress coined the term “childcare desert” to describe a census tract with at least 50 children, with either zero childcare providers, or a 3:1 (or greater) ratio of children under 5 to childcare.There are entire zip codes in Texas that have no registered childcare centers. Roughly 1 – in – 10 Texas children live in a childcare desert. As of 2019, 75% of low-income kids ages 0 – 5 with working parents, like Alex, live in a childcare desert. That figure jumps to 90% in Dallas County. 

At this point in the conversation, I was empathetic to Alex’s frustration. We both recognized that the lack of childcare availability in Texas is inadequate and that it only leads to greater problems. Across Texas, we see nearly half of all childcare providers accept subsidies however, many parents that qualify for this subsidized care have limited options afforded to them regarding the quality of the childcare providers recognized by the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System, known as the Texas Rising Star. 

The takeaway from all this is that childcare in Texas is fundamental to achieving one’s greatest potential. Working individuals, like Alex, deserve the right to provide for themselves and their loved ones while assured their children are cared for by quality providers. Eliminating childcare deserts in Texas through additional funding will be a major legislative priority of mine in the 87thLegislative Session. However, to fix the issue of insufficient childcare in our state we must first address our lack of critical infrastructure and our abysmally competitive average wage. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by state Rep. Ray Lopez of San Antonio. It appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. Rep. Lopez can be reached through this email address: [email protected]

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