Joe Biden’s child care plan would put stay-at-home parents at a disadvantage, conservative scholars say.
Child care is “infrastructure for families,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in touting Biden’s plan Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention.
The Democratic presidential nominee’s child care plan would create such an infrastructure by providing free universal preschool to young children and providing tax credits to employers for constructing on-site child care facilities. Biden’s plan is intended to address both the short-term problems with child care created by the coronavirus and the long-term ones related to the affordability of quality child care.
But some child care experts say Biden’s proposal neglects to help stay-at-home parents and warn that the problems facing families are not amenable to one-size-fits-all solutions.
“Why spend $10-15,000 to pay a stranger to take care of our children, when parents could get that $10-15,000 to raise their children themselves?” said Katharine Stevens, a scholar of early-childhood programs at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. ”Why are we privileging paying strangers rather than making it easier to raise kids ourselves?”
Stevens said that, under Biden’s universal preschool program, many parents would be pushed to use the program, since it would be free. Instead, Stevens said, it would be better if parents were offered financial assistance to take care of their children themselves, which many would prefer to do.
Almost 40% of all women in the United States would prefer to stay at home and take care of their family rather than work, while 23% of men have the same preference, according to a Gallup poll from 2019.
”Child care is an essential part of the infrastructure of the economy, not the essential infrastructure of society. Family is the essential infrastructure of society,” said Stevens. Instead of structuring child care around what is good for our economy or what is good for women, we should be focusing more on what is best for children, Stevens said.
She pointed to studies that found negative effects from putting kids into universal preschool programs, which, she said, showed that equipping parents with more financial resources to handle child care themselves is likely to be a more effective solution.
Stevens is in favor of using the money Biden plans to use for a universal preschool program to fund a child care allowance program based on family income and number of children, which would better equip families financially for caring for their kids themselves. She admitted such a program could be challenging to administer in terms of ensuring people are honest about the use of funds but said that such a program would be better than universal preschool.
Biden’s child care proposal is part of a larger economic recovery plan titled “21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce,” which would invest $775 billion over 10 years to rebuild and strengthen the nation’s caregiving economy through a free universal preschool program, in-home elder care, and long-term care for the disabled. The plan would be funded, in part, by rolling back some tax breaks for real estate investors with incomes over $400,000 and by “taking steps to increase tax compliance for high-income earners,” according to the Biden campaign.
Another child care expert, Hadley Heath Manning, director of policy at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, said she appreciated the attention Biden and other Democrats were bringing to the issue of child care but suggested some significant changes.
“Although Biden’s plan sounds like a good idea, it will create standardization within child care and result in less choices for children and their parents,” said Heath Manning, who emphasized that a universal preschool program might pressure more parents into the workplace rather than choose to stay home and care for their children, as many would prefer to do.
Heath Manning said that one of the “unpopular and inconvenient truths” of Biden’s child care proposal is that most working mothers want to work less and have more of a work-life balance in order to spend more time with their children. Outsourcing child care to paid professionals would not solve this issue, said Heath Manning.
She added that stay-at-home parents were left out of Biden’s child care plan and that his universal preschool proposal could cause a fundamental shift in child-rearing. Heath Manning said that by creating a government-funded program, the question of “how young is too young” when it comes to sending children to institutions of learning is decided, essentially, by the government.
Heath Manning said she would support states and cities to provide child care or tuition support on a sliding scale, based on need, which would give parents the choice to use funds as they want for child care purposes. Another idea she floated was a government-funded dependent care Flexible Spending Account or FSA.