Feb 13, 2023 - Podcasts

More flying objects shot down over the U.S.

The U.S. shot down an unidentified object on Sunday over Lake Huron — at least the fourth flying object to be downed in U.S. airspace since the start of the month, including the surveillance balloon sent by the Chinese government. We get a reality check on what's going on.

  • Plus, the crushing cost of childcare.
  • And, one of the Black artists you told us is inspiring you.

Guests: Axios' Jennifer Kingson and Reuters' Idrees Ali .

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, February 13th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today on the show: the crushing cost of childcare. Plus: one of the Black artists inspiring you. But first: More flying objects shot down over the U.S. – our reality check is today’s one big thing.

More flying objects shot down over the U.S.

NIALA: The U.S. shot down an unidentified object yesterday over Lake Huron — at least the fourth flying object to be downed in U.S. airspace since the start of the month, including the surveillance balloon from China. This has opened the door to criticism — especially from GOP lawmakers — that the Biden administration is not providing enough answers about what’s going on.

Idrees Ali of Reuters is here with us for a reality check on the situation. Hey Idress. How are you?

IDREES ALI: Good. How are you?

NIALA: What are all of these objects? Are not all of them surveillance balloons?

IDREES: So the first one that we heard about on January 28th was definitely a Chinese spy balloon. Um, based on everything the U.S. government has said and some of the evidence that they've shared with us. Since then we have had three more objects, they are not being categorized as spy balloons, and part of the reason is the U.S. government and intel community just doesn't know. It doesn't appear to be the case, but it also is possible that when they do more analysis, they come back and actually, these were all spy balloons. It's a very long way of saying they don't know the answer.

NIALA: Do we know if there are actually suddenly more of these, let's just say flying objects, or is it that the U.S. military and the media is paying more attention?

IDREES: In terms of spy balloons, there were four incidents over the past five years, over the United States, right? So those have happened, they were just never disclosed. What hadn't happened is for this balloon-like object to fly through the middle of America for so many people to see. So you know, if it flies over Alaska, there are less people less likely to be spotted if they sort of touched the coast of Hawaii, again, not as populated. So, one school of thought is that there's definitely more of these things. The other school of thought is we're seeing more because now after the Chinese spy balloon incident, we're looking harder, and so when you look harder, your radars are more attuned to those things.

NIALA: So what do we know? What is the U.S. government actually saying about the situation?

IDREESSo what we know is there have been now, four shoot downs in eight days. We know the Biden administration is focused on this in a way I don't think they wanted to be focused on, because it's bringing it to question whether they were, sort of dropping the ball, initially and now are overcompensating. And the other thing that we know is that the coming days and weeks, we're probably gonna see more of these because it's, you know, not on the literal radar alone, but just on the radar of so many government officials, and I think American people in general. You know, if you look up and you see something now, I think you're gonna sort of think twice. Is that just me imagining something or is there actually an object that's, you know, 20 to 40,000 feet up there?

NIALA: How much should Americans be paying attention to this or be worried about this?

IDREES: So a lot of this is obviously political, but a lot of this is also now in the public information space because, you know, unlike most things the military does, it's really easy to understand and I think an average American can be scared or concerned about balloons. And so I think it's something the administration has to take way more seriously. People are actually scared about objects flying over their houses. It's something again, in the coming week or weeks, they're gonna have to figure out how to deal with.

NIALA: Idrees Ali is National Security and Foreign Policy Correspondent from Reuters. Thanks so much.

IDREES: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment: babysitting costs reflect the growing burden of childcare in the U.S.


The crushing cost of childcare

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

The cost of babysitting in the U.S. rose nearly 10% last year, and the national average price tag is now nearly $23 an hour for one child. That's according to Urban Sitter, which provided this new data to Axios’ Jennifer Kingson first. And as a shortage of childcare providers across the board grows in the U.S., so does the financial burden on parents and caregivers.

Jennifer’s here with more, hey Jennifer.


NIALA: So the government has a measure for if childcare is considered affordable. The Department of Health and Human Services says childcare is considered affordable if it costs families no more than 7% of their income. How much is the average American parent spending of their income on childcare?

JENNIFER: According to a recent survey by Care.com, 51% of parents are spending 20% of their income on childcare well above that 7% threshold. And this rings true to so many of us who have had, uh, in-home childcare. We're talking not just about nannies, but, uh, you know, if you wanna go out on a Saturday night. The national rate for a family with three children, for example, in the most recent urban sitter poll, it's gonna cost you $28 an hour. That's before you've gone out to dinner or gone to see a movie. So it really is a big factor in the family finances in 2023.

NIALA: So Jennifer, The Wall Street Journal reported there were about 58,000 fewer daycare workers in the U.S. last month compared to February 2020. What else do we know about the shortage for childcare workers?

JENNIFER: Childcare workers are a distinctive category because, well, most other categories of labor came back after the pandemic to equal numbers. There's that missing 58,000 childcare workers, which means that, it's really, a seller's market, if you will, for people who want to provide childcare, particularly in people's homes. Now the, market has become a bit warped and distorted as a result of this, people who are teachers, nurses, in other, professions that are, parenthetical to childcare are switching over because they can make more money, in a job with perhaps better working conditions by going to, to provide childcare either for an individual family or for a group of families. Who are increasingly teaming up to do, uh, share care situations. If you have somebody who has a teaching degree, who's a trained nurse or has a skill, like a language or an instrument that they can teach the child, they in turn command higher rates. Which pushes up the rates overall and increases that national average, which as you mentioned has skyrocketed well beyond the rate of inflation.

NIALA: What about parents who can't afford to pay for childcare? What are they doing? What are their options?

JENNIFER: It's the traditional options, find a family member who's willing to do it, cobble together some arrangement that is some way affordable. Employers notably are recognizing this big pickle that families are in and more employers are starting to subsidize childcare, which is a good sign. This is increasingly a demand in the market. companies are finding that that's the best way to attract and retain workers.

Now, interestingly, the CEO of UrbanSitter told me that not only are the kind of white collar corporate type jobs that you think of as offering, uh, subsidized childcare. But it's, it's, you know, traditional blue collar companies as well, because companies that operate, uh, distribution warehouses and manufacturing plants, they're really hit hard by this too because the wages that they offer aren't so different from the ones that childcare providers are getting. So, in a positive trend from all this, uh, difficult news, it's a good sign that companies are recognizing that this is a central issue that they need to address.

NIALA: Axios’ Chief Correspondent Jennifer Kingson. Thanks, Jennifer.

JENNIFER: Great to talk to you, Niala.

Black artists inspiring you

NIALA: One final thing - I’d be remiss if I did not mention that while some people were most excited about that big football game last night…for me it was all about the halftime show, as Rihanna is one of my favorite artists. And she did not disappoint.

Last week, we asked you all to share some of your favorite Black artists and what their work means to you. Here’s what we heard from Noel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

NOEL: A black artist I've been listening to a lot is a guy called Scarlet House. He is a one man band. He's got a very unique sound. Very ethereal, very emotional. The music tends to be very, very touching. Rock and roll music inspired by maybe some nineties and early zeroes bands. Just really a really great sound. And he's been blowing up on TikTok. He just serves a larger audience, so I'm really hoping this, this gets him that. Scarlet House. Amazing.

NIALA: Thanks so much Noel. And we want to hear YOUR favorite Black artists – send a voice memo to (202) 918-4893. We’ll keep sharing them over the coming weeks!

And that’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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