Clark: Crisis exposes crucial role of child care

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Congresswoman Katherine Clark on Thursday said a lack of access to child care is “holding our economy hostage” and called for a shift in how the public views care and education of young children.

Speaking at an online Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event, Clark said child care should be thought of as a public good like transportation infrastructure rather than as a personal choice for parents.

“If the Zakim Bridge collapsed, the effects on the local economy would be immediate, devastating and obvious,” Clark said during what the Chamber billed as the Melrose Democrat’s first address to the business community. “Every one of us would leap into action. We would make the necessary investments in resources because we know our ability to function hinges on it. The pandemic has shown us this is true for child care.”

Describing the current economic crisis as “the country’s first she-cession,” Clark said women have been especially hard hit by the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, 865,000 women left the workforce, she said.

Clark said many women have been confronted with a choice between their jobs and caregiving responsibilities.

In a recent Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women survey, 72 percent of 4,089 respondents said they were facing an “increased inability to work” because of COVID-19’s effects on child care and education arrangements in their families. Twenty-one percent reported that they were considering quitting their jobs, and 45 percent said changes in school and care arrangements had hurt their financial security.

Clark, the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, is the second highest-ranking woman in the U.S. House, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

She is facing a challenge this election cycle from Stoneham Republican Caroline Colarusso, and in September announced her intention to run for assistant speaker if House Democrats keep their majority in the new term.

Boston Chamber President and CEO James Rooney, who moderated the livestream discussion, referenced a July article in The Hill that described Clark as “the most powerful woman in the Capitol you’ve probably never heard of” and said that some Democrats in “have begun referring to the unassuming 55-year-old as ‘the silent assassin,’ as she plays the inside game — mostly out of view of the TV cameras — and looks to scale the leadership ladder.”

Clark said she was “sort of amused by this silent assassin moniker, which I think really came from one anonymous comment in an article.” She said it’s not a name she hears often.

“I think it’s kind of funny to me in some ways, because I’m not known for being very silent,” Clark said, laughing. “I think I’m rather outspoken when it comes to these core economic issues for families, for small businesses, for addressing fundamental fairness and equity in our country and in the application of our laws and our justice system. I think it would amuse my mother, who has passed away, to ever hear anyone call me silent.”

A former Melrose School Committee member who served five years in the state Legislature before winning a special election for the Congressional seat that opened up with Ed Markey’s election to the Senate, Clark said she’s carried lessons from her time in local office to Capitol Hill.

“There’s no safe place in your community from parents when you’re on a school committee — so whether it’s at the deli line at the Market Basket or at your post office, out to dinner, people would stop, and it really did teach me a great lesson about always listening,” she said. “Those answers and solutions that we’re facing now, they are going to come from our communities, and my work and why I’m running for this assistant speaker is to bring those voices of the commonwealth, of the people in my district, to the leadership table.”

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