President Joe Biden
have said they want to do something big on child care
, and a new report out Thursday can give you an idea of how big.
The report focuses on a proposal that Biden and the Democrats hope to include in the massive, multitrillion-dollar spending bill they hope to pass this fall: financing pre-kindergarten programs and subsidize child care on a sliding scale based on financial status, with the goal of ensuring that no family
's expenses exceed 7% of household income
That would be a significant change, as the average cost of child care in the United States
is currently 10% of family income, or possibly higher, depending on how the figure is calculated.
But how many Americans would benefit from the Democratic
proposal, according to a report released
on Thursday by the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank, and two advocacy organizations, the Center on Law
and Social Policy and the National Women
's Law Center.
According to the report, which the groups shared with Stardia prior to publication, if the Democratic plan were fully implemented, more than 8 million young children
would be enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs or receive subsidized child care.
To give you a sense of scale, according to the report, the number of young children receiving subsidized care today
is less than one million, owing primarily to a limited set of federal grants to states, which the new Democratic initiative would largely replace.
“This report adds to the growing evidence that establishing a child care system will make a significant difference in the lives of families
across the country,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the proposal’s chief sponsor in the Senate
, told Stardia after reviewing the report.
Big Spending Equals Big Influence
The findings of the new report are similar to those of a May report by another liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, which used the same basic methodology.
You shouldn't take either of these estimates as gospel because predicting the effects of child care subsidies is far from an exact science
; however, the reports can at least convey a sense of magnitude, and their conclusions make intuitive sense.
There is no simple way to make an “apples to apples” comparison with current government spending on early childhood programs, but that works out to $45 billion annually, which is roughly eight times the pre-pandemic federal spending on those more limited state child care grants.
The new funding proposed by Democrats is intended to do more than just lower the effective price of child care; it is also intended to improve its quality, in part by raising wages for caregivers, who currently earn less than parking
attendants. The hope is that higher pay will make it easier to attract and retain more talented, qualified workers in child care.
The other major goal of the child care proposal is to boost the economy
, in part by freeing up parents, particularly women, who would otherwise have to reduce their hours or stay out of the workforce entirely, despite preferring to work outside the home
“What isn’t always measured or seen is the invisible labor
and burden demanded of so many women who have been trying to hold it together,” Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, told Stardia. “It’s a real cost, in the short and long term, on their careers and financial security
, for themselves and their families.”
The Objectives Are Clear, But the Policy Is Difficult
It remains to be seen whether the Democratic proposal, known as the Child Care for Working Families Act, can actually achieve all of this.
The policy architecture would be complex, with the federal government offering money
to states in exchange for states adhering to affordability and quality standards. There is plenty of room for doubt about how well those standards would work, and there is no guarantee that states would accept the money.
Even in states that do, the complexities of determining eligibility (assistance would be cut off entirely at 150% of state median income) mean that the new program would lack the simplicity of universal systems favored by working parents in countries such as France
The Democratic proposal, on the other hand, has the potential to provide meaningful assistance to millions of families in ways that supporters hope will benefit both children and parents.
“Maybe you can find someone down the street who can take your kids at random, or you leave them unsafely at home,” Murray said, referring to the choices some families make. “Quality is a big piece of what we’re trying to do because we believe it’s critically important so that our young kids today are getting the type of child care they need to be successful.”
“My hope,” Graves said, “is that we will move away from the assumption that there is insufficient child care, insufficient facilities to meet the demands of families, and that families either can’t afford child care or must pay a significant portion of their wages to get it.”
Politically, there is also a significant challenge
To do so, Democrats would need to get their proposal through Congress
, which appears unlikely given that some Republicans
have already criticized it for attempting to “funnel your kids, starting as toddlers, into a government-run system,” as Sen. Marco Rubio
(R-Fla.) wrote in National Review this week.
Not that Democrats were counting on Republican support; the plan has always been to include child care in a larger piece of legislation that moves through Congress through the “budget reconciliation
” process, in which a simple majority can pass legislation without the threat of a filibuster
in the Senate.
Even that will be difficult because Democrats have the smallest of House majorities and literally no votes
to spare in the Senate. Leaders have been discussing a $3.5 trillion package, which is a lot of money, obviously, but not enough to fully fund all of the Democratic agenda items.
And if Democrats can't agree on a package of tax hikes
and spending cuts to offset new spending, the $3.5 trillion figure may have to be reduced.
Child care legislation advocates understand this as well as anyone else, which is why they are so eager for people
to learn about the impact
that legislation could have.
Yes, it would be expensive, but that is because they believe it has tremendous potential.