Our Goal: All Canadians can afford enough time at home and enough time at work when they start their families
Entire generations of families raising kids are being squeezed by skyrocketing home prices, child care that costs another rent or mortgage-sized payment, inadequate parental leave that undermines gender equality, and insufficient work-life balance. When this doesn’t result in kids being squeezed out of the picture entirely, evidence confirms that this squeeze is passed on to the next generation of children. That’s why Canada has between 1/4 to 1/3 of kindergarteners starting school in ways that mean they are more likely to fail, go to jail, or wind up sick as adults.
It doesn’t have to be this way! We can prevent child vulnerability by reducing the squeeze on families. Gen Squeeze’s solutions will ensure all Canadians can have enough time, money and services when they start their families. And we’re already making real progress towards this goal.
Canada’s historic decision to adopt $10 a day child care is a big win for improving wellbeing from the early years onwards. Over a decade ago, Gen Squeeze branded ‘$10 a day’ to name our national child care recommendation. Now that a pan-Canadian $10 a day system is finally coming into place, we can be proud of our role in making child care affordable – though there’s more to do to make $10 the max daily fee, not just the average, to ensure all families can access quality care.
Table of contents:
- Guiding principles
- Our basic plan
Our solutions framework is guided by 3 core principles:
Parents deserve choices about how to allocate their time between home and work according to their values and financial needs. Presently, high costs, financial pressures and the gender division of labour prevent many parents from being able to choose the work-life balance that would work best for them.
The gender pay gap and glass ceiling have their roots in how families organize child care at home between men and women, with men often doing less at home and thereby reducing opportunities for women to succeed at work. During the pandemic, we've seen how the disruption to schools and child care has had disproportionate impact on women, with many referring to the pandemic-induced recession as a "She-cession".
In response, we identified for solutions that promote equal opportunity for women to access the joys and burdens of the labour market, and equal opportunity for men to access the joys and burdens of caregiving at home. Plus, its important for our policies to address the way that opportunities for families with kids are influenced significantly by the way that power dynamics related to class, race, gender, colonial history, etc. intersect to elevate some people's opportunities, while limiting others.
Time with family
The squeeze for time and money means one-earner couples are far less common, because families need to devote more time to the labour market to deal with high costs of living, especially rising home prices, that have left their earnings behind.
This shift has also aligned with important societal changes in values that promote gender equality. But if a few decades ago it was common for many families to get by with one worker putting in around 40 hours per week, does the shift to dual earner families and lone-parents with strong connections to the labour market really require everyone working 40 hours-plus?
Since households are allocating more parental time in total to the labour market, it's time to prioritize ways in which each individual parent may be able to find at least a little more time at home -- including single parents who are faced with the particular challenge of being full-time breadwinner and full-time caregiver all on their own? Our gameplan embraces family time and advocates for policies incentivizing healthier work-family balance. This benefits Canada’s parents, children, and communities by encouraging health and leisure in all of our lives.
Our basic plan
Our plan is all about ensuring families can choose enough time at home, enough time at work, and the opportunity to balance both.
Pillar one — Stay home with family: Time at home especially important following the birth of a baby. So we propose policies that enrich parental leave benefits and incentivize parents to more equally share parental leave time by making it more affordable to do so.
Pillar two — Go to work: This pathway is focused on the toddler and preschool years when parental leave benefits end and financial pressures call parents back to work. We propose policies focused on making childcare services better, more accessible, and affordable for all parents who wish to return to work. A $10-a-day universal childcare system, with no fees for low-income households, will make it easier for parents to choose to return to work without having to pay impossibly high childcare fees.
**Note: The 2021 federal budget made a historic investment to bring this vision of $10-a-day child care to life. We will monitor it carefully to see that its implementation lives up to our recommendation details outlined below.
Pillar three — Balance both: Throughout a child’s life, parents should be able to balance both raising their children with care and attention, while also leading fulfilling careers. We propose policies and incentives that encourage more flexible workplaces and shorter work weeks to allow for more time at home each year, while anticipating the parents today will end up working more years in total for reasons we describe more below.
Pillar one — Make it easier to choose to stay home with family
Our first recommendation is to expand parental leave in ways that incentivize mothers and fathers to take leave and ensure that no parents have to raise their children in poverty.
We can do this by:
Increasing parental leave benefit amounts:
We propose increasing both the minimum and maximum benefit amounts for parental leave. It could look like this:
New minimum benefit: $500/week. This is close to today’s maximum. The minimum parental leave benefit should ensure that parents aren't raising infants in poverty.
New maximum benefit: The maximum benefit must also be increased to $1,031 (Calculated as 80% of the parent’s annual earnings, up to $67K, adjusted for inflation annually). This change would increase families income while on parental leave by as much $24,000 a year. Now that would make precious time at home with a new baby more affordable by easing the money squeeze. This maximum benefit value will also reduce problematic incentives in the current leave system which tend to discourage the higher-earning parent from taking leave, which given the gender earnings gap, more often is men.
Making parental leave benefits available to all households
Parental leave benefits should be available to ALL single- and dual-earner households regardless of parents’ employment status. We propose that leave benefits no longer be based on Employment Insurance criteria.
Promoting shared parental leave
Shared parental leave has so many benefits. It means both parents spend more time with their newborn children. It means more shared responsibilities for both caring for and paying for raising children. It means steps toward breaking gendered divisions of home labour that greatly contributes to gender pay gaps and reinforces the glass ceiling facing women in the workplace. Sounds like a no-brainer right? Exactly! That’s why we recommend policy that reserves leave time for both parents, acknowledging this doesn't make sense for single-parents who would remain eligible for the same total amount of time as a two-parent household.
Here’s an example of what this could look like:
6 months paid leave time for Parent 1
6 months paid leave time for Parent 2
6 months paid leave time to split between Parent 1 and Parent 2 how ever they like.
To incentivize both parents taking leave, the 6 months allocated for each individual parent would be "use it or lose it"; that is, this block of time couldn't be reallocated to the other parent. So each parent could have up to 1 year of leave time regardless of the preferences of their spouse.
Why promote this design of parental leave? Because the evidence shows that when women disproportionately take leaves beyond 12 months, it reinforces societal patterns and norms that cause the gender pay gap and glass ceiling. Plus, long leaves taken by women causes men to miss out on all of the joys that come with forming strong attachments to their infant children that will last a life time.
To implement these 3 policy areas (Increasing parental leave benefit amounts, making parental leave benefits available to all households, and promoting shared parental leave), we estimate the costs to be another $10 billion in annual funding. To put that in context, Old Age Security costs nearly $60 billion annually, and is scheduled to grow to over $70 billion annually in the next few years.
Pillar two — Make it easier to choose to go to work
After parental leave benefits end, parents often want the opportunity to go back to work.
But with the high costs of childcare, that choice isn't as easy as one might think. Sometimes parents even have to factor in whether it even makes sense to go back to work if most of their income will go to paying childcare fees. For single parents, there's basically no choice but to pay the extremely high child care costs.
That's why this path on our gameplan calls for expanding childcare services and making it affordable for any family who needs it.
Here's what we need to happen:
Decrease child care service fees
We propose reducing child care service fees to no more than $10/day (full-time) and $7/day (part-time). Additionally, it should be free for families earning less than $40,000/year.
Ensure pay equity for care workers
We've all seen how vital child care providers are as essential workers during the pandemic. They need to be paid accordingly. Since we need well trained child care providers to deliver developmentally-stimulating activities for the kids in their care, when those workers have the same amount of education as grade school teachers, they should be paid accordingly.
Action to ensure high-quality child to caregiver ratios
Put simply, research shows that high quality child care for preschool age children requires low numbers of children relative to the adult caregivers in the room -- lower than what is typical of kindergartens. Gen Squeeze recommends policy to train and employ more child care workers to ensure better experiences for every child, including additional resources for children with extra support needs.
Pillar three - Make it easier to choose to balance both work and family time
Incentivize shorter full-time work-norms
It's easier to balance work and family time if work doesn't take up so much of our time each year, and if we can spread out our paid work better across our entire lives.
Gen Squeeze proposes adapting overtime, Employment Insurance, and Canada Public Pension premiums paid by employers to make it less costly for businesses to use employees up to 35 hours per week, and more costly for hours thereafter. For example, with new incentives, employers could reduce the full-time work week by 3-5 hours on average for the half of men and third of women who currently work more than 40 hours/week. These employees would trade some after-tax wages (or future wage increases) in order to gain four more weeks of time per year. Changes to the Canada Child Benefit will ensure any reduction in employment hours does not reduce income in low-earning families. This may be especially important for some lone parent households. Employees who currently work part-time hours would gain opportunities for more employment. Within two parent homes, the total number of hours worked by parents may not change, but they may be redistributed more evenly between parents.
Incentivize flexible work hours
with an understanding that this area of policy is relatively undeveloped (i.e. we're very open to ideas)
Action to acknowledge longer work lives
We are living 7-10 years longer than Canadians typically did when we first started our retirement income security systems. Gen Squeeze recommendations for greater work-life balance during our employment years should happen alongside policy conversations about the age at which we are eligible for old age security (OAS). It may be appropriate to expect (many) younger Canadians today to work more years before we claim OAS, if our longer work-lives help pay for public programs required to facilitate greater work-life balance each year that we are in the labour market. Shorter work-years in exchange for longer work-lives would be a fair and reasonable trade-off that could promote better work-life balance while families are raising young kids.
Sources for our Family Affordability Game Plan
The family policy framework was developed based on research led at the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), a research centre at the University of BC in which the Gen Squeeze Lab is located. HELP has served as an international knowledge hub about early child development, and its impact on life-long health. Portions of it also align with and draw from the work of the national Child Care Now movement and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC and its $10aDay plan. The Coalition embraced the $10aday branding for a national child care recommendation which Gen Squeeze initiated in our Lab over a decade ago. Along with Early Childhood Educators of BC, the Coalition has done an amazing job mobilizing British Columbians around a concrete plan to bring $10aday child care to life. Together, our complementary activities have had national influence, given that the federal government has recently embraced the $10 a day idea for its historic child care investment in the 2021 federal budget.