A Lesson from Black History

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ElijahCummings1
Elijah Cummings

For most American families, it is extremely difficult to both earn a living and successfully raise our children.

This reality is certainly the truth for families who are poor, of whom minorities constitute a disproportionate share.  Yet, it also is true for any of us who consider ourselves to be middle class.

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of American families with children have either two working parents or a single parent — and a majority do not have a stay-at-home parent to provide child care.  Balancing child care and work is a major challenge.

A key obstacle is financial.  Far too many families simply do not have the financial resources to pay for the quality child care and early child education their children need.

President Obama has been making the case that affordable child care and education must be a national priority.  Our families need help, our economy would benefit, and the next generation would be far better qualified to strengthen our middle class.

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The President reminds us of some eye-opening facts.  For example, the average annual cost of full-time care at an infant child-care center was about $10,000 per child in 2013.

That’s higher than the average cost of in-state tuition at a public 4-year college.

From the perspective of public policy, our current approach is inadequate, even where tax credits and Early Head Start are available.  These shortcomings are preventing tens of millions of American families from raising themselves into the middle class — and even more affluent families are being stressed.

In his recent remarks on “Middle-Class Economics” at the University of Kansas, the President recalled how his grandmother worked on an assembly line for bombers during WWII.  Since women in the workforce were critical to the war effort – and a national priority – our country provided universal child care.

Many economists would agree that supporting families in the workforce must become a national economic priority once again — as do the President and I.

The President is proposing that we increase the maximum child care tax credit to $3,000 per year per young child and expand access to child care assistance for all eligible families of moderate income (below 200 percent of the poverty line).

The President’s FY 2016 Budget would also expand access to high-quality early childhood education for low and moderate income families, long a top priority of my own.

If adopted by the Congress, these actions would be a substantial down payment on making parenting more affordable for all American families.  They would help our current economy and make a critical investment in the next generation of Americans.

Some conservatives in the Congress may resist President Obama’s initiatives, despite the fact that reducing net taxes on working families is a cornerstone of any viable tax reform.

Those who are reluctant to confront the challenges of family and work should take a Black History lesson to heart.

Consider this:  Some of the most compelling lessons of history for our own time are subtle — among them, the truth that our desire for freedom and our love of family have always been mutually reinforcing.

No American historical figure exemplifies this insight about our core humanity more fully than did Araminta Ross, better known to history as Harriet Tubman.

Last month, I was invited by Governor O’Malley to participate in the official unveiling of the Harriet Tubman bust at a time when Ms. Tubman also is being honored with national parks in Maryland and New York.  In preparation for that ceremony, I re-read her March 1913 obituary from the annals of the Auburn, NY Citizen.

Although seldom stressed by historians, it was thought-provoking to me that Harriet Tubman’s likely sale and separation from those she loved upon the death of her owner, one Edward Brodess, was a driving force in her decision to escape to freedom. Once liberated in the North, her initial forays in her 19 journeys as a conductor on the Underground Railroad were to rescue her own loved ones.

Enduring hardship and risking life and liberty in pursuit of her calling to reunite her family, she repeatedly traveled across the Mason-Dixon Line and into our history.

A century and a half later, Americans honor Harriet Tubman for her courage — and those of us who are Americans of Color revere her as “the Moses of our People.”  Yet, to fully grasp her relevance for our own time, we should remember that Ms. Tubman’s driving motivation, at least initially, was love of family.

Those who are tempted to resist the President’s child care and education initiatives on economic grounds would do well to remember this historical truth.

In the 19th Century, the slave-based economy failed, in part, because it refused to recognize and support the critical importance of family to those upon whose labor that economy depended.

In our own time, we should take Harriet Tubman’s example to heart and not make a comparable error.

Making child care more affordable and supporting early childhood education must become national priorities.

 

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District In the United States House of Representatives.