Child Care on the Cheap: Welfare Reform and the Social Organization of Child Care Work in New York City
Black, Simon John
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This study aims to further a feminist political economy of urban welfare regimes, applying a gender lens to processes of urban neoliberalization and an urban lens to feminist political economy analyses of welfare state restructuring and resistance. In New York City, neoliberal welfare reform dramatically increased need and demand for child care, escalating the citys child care crisis. As thousands of poor single mothers were pushed into workfare jobs and the lower reaches of the labour market, the question of Who will care for their children? was thrust to the forefront of New York politics. In response to the crisis, the administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani channelled welfare mothers into relying on precarious, home-based child care providers for the care of their children, despite federal and state regulations guaranteeing parent choice in the use of child care subsidies. This strategy can be understood as one of privatization, as the city delivered child care services on the cheap by downloading costs of and responsibilities for caregiving onto low-income families/households and communities, and especially the women within them. While occurring against the backdrop of federal welfare reform, the citys response to the crisis is best understood in the context of a broader project of urban neoliberalization designed to roll back the institutional legacies of New Yorks postwar welfare regime, including a public centre-based child care system staffed by a unionized workforce. Yet, paradoxically, the citys strategy to mediate the crisis produced openings for progressive civil society actors to contest the grounds of mediation and push the state to socialize costs of and responsibilities for child care. The most important outcome of this contestation was the unionization of home child care workers and their emergence as a powerful political force in the wake of welfare reform. Overall, this case study demonstrates that under neoliberalism, urban welfare regimes are central sites of contested, state-driven efforts to mediate crisis tendencies in social reproduction. Privatized remedies aimed at mediation can unleash contradictions, creating openings for resistance and a more progressive reorganization of the work of social reproduction.