‘Anti-Child and Anti-Mother’: Ron Johnson’s Latest Child Care Proposal Punishes Moms for Poverty

A teacher at Community Care Preschool & Childcare in Beaver Dam teaches 2-year-olds. (Photo by Cara Spoto)

By Keya Vakil

March 17, 2022

Johnson, part of the most powerful class of men in America, could have endorsed legislation to provide childcare workers with a living wage. Instead, the millionaire suggested forcing low income women to fill the gaps in the childcare workforce.

Wisconsin’s Republican US Sen. Ron Johnson this week suggested that mothers who get public assistance should be required to help other mothers by working at the child care centers that take care of their kids.

“When you have mothers on different kinds of public assistance, to me, an elegant solution would be, why don’t we have them help staff child care for other mothers?” Johnson said Tuesday during a telephone town hall with constituents.

Johnson, who is running for a third term this November despite a pledge six years ago that he would not, said his idea is intended to address staffing shortages at childcare facilities. Wisconsin, like most other states, is facing a severe shortage of childcare workers, driven largely by the near-poverty-level wages such caregivers earn. The average child care worker in Wisconsin earned just $10.66 an hour in 2019, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Johnson, one of the most powerful people in America, could have endorsed or introduced legislation to provide childcare workers with a living wage and make programs affordable for parents. Indeed, that’s what President Joe Biden and many economists and experts have pushed for, pointing out (correctly) that increasing childcare worker pay would make it easier to recruit and retain workers, thus increasing the number of childcare slots and freeing up more parents to return to the job market. 

More than 5 million parents in the US, including more than 28,000 in Wisconsin, said their main reason for not working was providing care for children who aren’t in school or daycare, according to data from the most recent Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.

Instead of supporting efforts to help childcare workers and struggling families, Johnson—who is worth nearly $40 million, secured hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts for his wealthy Republican donors, and has used loopholes to pay almost nothing in taxes—has derided ordinary parents’ struggles finding affordable childcare.   

“People decide to have families and become parents, that’s something they need to consider when they make that choice,” Johnson said in January. “I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”

Now, rather than address the childcare crisis by providing childcare workers a living wage, he has suggested forcing economically disadvantaged women to fill the gaps in the childcare workforce. Johnson’s comments came after a caller asked what Johnson would do to help small businesses and child care centers. 

“I understand, you know, having a mother in charge of a bunch of kids plus her own kids, she may not provide the care to the other kids. Again, I understand the concern,” Johnson said. “There’s got to be an imaginative solution where moms who are getting assistance can be involved in the child care centers for other moms and just be a cooperative type of arrangement here.”

Experts in the field say Johnson isn’t listening to the people who already experience the challenges of providing and finding child care. 

“What if I told you that #childcare is already staffed almost exclusively by low income mothers and that they qualify for public benefits BECAUSE they work there?,” posted Dr. Dan Wuori, Senior Director of Early Learning for the Hunt Institute, an education research organization. “This is not a policy solution. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Johnson’s idea—which would actually be illegal under state law and is similar to one he suggested in 2016—also drew immediate backlash from Democrats.

“We have a full-blown child care crisis and a record number of moms getting knocked out of the workforce. There are commonsense solutions to these problems, but Ron Johnson’s ‘imaginative’ idea would punish moms and drag us back to the 1950s,” said Democratic US Senate candidate and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski. “I have news for this guy: We’re not going back.”

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running in the Democratic Senate primary alongside Godlewski, also criticized Johnson for his suggestion. 

“The pandemic has effectively set women’s participation in the workforce back a generation, and Ron Johnson’s solution to the child care crisis—on Equal Pay Day no less—is to add to their burden,” Barnes said.

Senate candidate and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson posted on Twitter: “Only billionaire son in law Ron Johnson would think child care is such an easy job anyone could do it. Mothers on public assistance shouldn’t have to shoulder the consequences of our inadequate childcare system. We need universal child care.”

A Johnson spokesperson tried to defend the Senator’s idea, telling Vanity Fair that it was Democrats and the Biden administration that were “repeatedly taking away options for hardworking families and mortgaging our children’s future” and that Biden’s “big government proposals” were not the solution. Johnson—who didn’t seem to care about big government when he used his power to give a tax cut to fellow millionaires and billionaires—“was simply suggesting looking for a better, less costly solution,” the spokesperson said. 

That explanation did little to quiet critics. 

Wisconsin State Sen. Kelda Roys put Johnson on full blast for his idea, which she described as “absolute trash.” She also pointed out how implicitly sexist Johnson’s idea is, since it implies that childcare is only the role of mothers and not fathers. 

In a follow-up tweet, Roys called Johnson a “selfish millionaire,” and argued he has no idea what it’s like to be a working parent who can’t find a safe and quality child care provider for their child. 

“I’m so sick of silver spoon GOP politicians blaming parents & low wage workers for structural problems created by decades of horrible public policy choices pushed by Republicans. Let’s just call [Ron Johnson’s] policies what they are: anti-child and anti-mother,” she added in another tweet.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.



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