President Joe Biden wants to bring the same insightful and sane style of governance to American child care services that had a job approval rating in the 1940s.
In other words, look below.
The child custody proposal that House Democrats wrote in Biden’s “human infrastructure” bill is perhaps the worst feature of the nearly $ 2 trillion legislation, and that means something.
It’s authoritarian and normative, sets a new front in culture warfare via a growing welfare state, is likely to increase costs for middle and upper-middle class parents, and may have an unconstitutional provision to boot.
The proposal reflects the preferences of professional two-earner couples in the Acela Corridor prone to formal and expensive all-day childcare services, and it would take a big step towards listing this standard as a national standard.
There is no doubt that there is a significant demand for child care. About half of married and single mothers with children under five work full time, and about 40 percent of working mothers pay for child care. But it is a mistake to believe that all parents want to be in the workforce, with their children in standardized child care programs.
According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 50% of mothers of children under 18 would rather stay home to take care of their family than have a job. A survey by populist think tank American Compass found that 53% of married mothers prefer the model of a working parent and a stay-at-home parent in families with children under the age of five.
Parents who have to work or choose to work use all kinds of child care options, from parents to small in-home child care, to non-profit or for-profit child care.
There is a pronounced class division here. As Patrick Brown of the Center for Ethics and Public Policy points out, white children of parents who do not have a college degree spend most of their weekly hours with their parents; only 30 percent of children whose parents have a university education do the same.
What the Democratic proposal would do is put a huge thumb on the for-profit center ladder. It would pour hundreds of billions of dollars, not to support the varied choices of parents, but to push the current archipelago of diverse options into a single system defined by the government.
The proposal would dramatically increase the salary of daycare educators, seeking to make it equivalent to that of primary school teachers, and add new regulations better supported by for-profit centers. In this way, it would bring to child care the progressive model of limited supply leading to increased costs that characterize the housing, education and health care sectors.
Leftist political analyst Matt Bruenig caused a stir when he warned of skyrocketing costs associated with rising wages and new regulations. He noted that the proposal grants to families are phased in based on income. This means that depending on the final design of the proposal, unsubsidized families could be exposed to increased costs without receiving additional government assistance. He cited the hypothesis of a two-earner family feeling the pressure of rising costs, so that one of the spouses resigns to reduce household income and thus qualify for subsidies.
“Normally, people who quit their jobs to take care of their children do so in order to save the money they would have to spend on child care,” he wrote. “As part of this plan, they have to quit their jobs to be able to afford childcare!”
In addition to this, the House proposal prohibits government funds intended to modernize childcare facilities from being spent on facilities “used primarily for sectarian education or religious worship.” This is a clear shot through the arc of church-based child care, somewhat likely to pass the rally with the Supreme Court.
So far, Biden’s presidency has been a long exercise in governance ideologically remote from reality. The childcare proposal is no different.