Getting the child care provisions of the Lanham Act passed wasn’t straightforward. It wasn’t until the number of women in the wartime workforce began to drop, with employers citing lack of childcare as the cause, that political resistance gave way in 1943. As soon as the war was over the funds were cut, ending in February 1946, despite widespread protests. New York City’s welfare commissioner, Edward Rhatigan, “deplored the ‘hysterical’ propaganda” about changes to the state’s plan, The New York Times reported at the time.

In 60 percent of two-parent households today, both parents work. But over half of all Americans live in a “child care desert,” a census tract with three times as many children as available openings in licensed local child care facilities, according to the Center for American Progress. Following the pandemic, there are nearly 100,000 fewer child care workers in the United States than there were before, The New York Times reported. Many experts agree: the United States is in a child care crisis.

A few large cities have implemented universal pre-kindergarten. This year, the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, signed a package of bills to support families, including funding for a universal child care program for children under school age. It would be the first of its kind in the nation if implemented.

CJ WALKER, an Institute for Nonprofit News intern at Retro Report, wrote and produced the short video accompanying this article, which first appeared in our free weekly newsletter. Subscribe here for new videos and surprises from history. Follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.