Formal child care workers in the United States earn about $21,110 per year. Parking lot attendants, in contrast, make $21,250. These relative wages are telling: the market values the people who look after our cars more than the people who look after our kids.

This article delves below the surface of these numbers to explore the systemic disadvantages of those who care for children—and children themselves. The article first illuminates the precarious economic position of U.S. children, a disproportionate number of whom live in poverty. The article then shows both that substantial care for children is provided on an unpaid basis in households, predominantly by women, and that care for children is undervalued when provided through the market.

After presenting three distinct perspectives on market payments for care for children—(1) a public goods analysis, (2) a patriarchy analysis, and (3) a gift analysis— the article proposes a set of income tax breaks for jobs involving care for children.

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