Major step toward resolving national child-care crisis
Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.
We have had a national child-care crisis for many years, some would say decades. During the worst of the pandemic years the American Rescue Plan provided an increase in the Child Tax Credit (which can be used for child-care) from $2,000 up to $3,600 for most families with children under age five and from $2,000 up to $3,000 for children ages six to 17.
The Dependent Care Flexible Spending Act provides for deducting up to 35 percent of child-care expenses for a maximum potential credit of $2,100. The consensus amongst child-care advocates is that the bulk of child-care expenses, for low-income families and middle-class families, are still borne by parents.
There are currently a set of bills that have been sponsored or are in the process of being sponsored in the House and the Senate by Democrats and Republicans to address the child-care crisis. Members of Congress who are championing bills include Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA).
The child-care crisis is a little bit like the Middle East. However you approach it, there are other aspects of the problem that are hard to address at the same time. The problem has been brewing for generations. There is clearly no simple solution to the problem. Nor is there agreement about what the problem is.
The problem starts as soon as a baby is born (cases of adoption are more complicated). The problem in question is who will take care of the child when the child is not in school. Consider these stages:
- Stage 1: Children are not in school from birth till kindergarten, which is typically age five.
- Stage 2: Some children are in half-day pre-school, which is typically age four.
- Stage 3: Children are not in school when first grade is dismissed, which could be 12 pm or 3 pm.
- Stage 4: Children are not in school when grades second through eight dismiss their students, which is approximately 3 pm.
- Stage 5: High school, when students are also dismissed at approximately 3 pm.
For children whose parents live in states where there is paid parental leave (Connecticut, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Delaware, New Mexico, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland as of Oct. 2023), the child-care problem may arise in month three or month six of the child's life.
One of the chief reasons that Congress has not appropriated sufficient funds to address the early stages of the child-care challenge, let alone all of the stages is that Congress, indeed the country, is divided on the question of whether it would be better for families to have a parent at home rather than put children in child-care centers. For decades progressives have fought to give women equal opportunities in the workplace; indeed, they blasted conservatives who they claim kept women trapped in their homes as caretakers for their children and husbands. There has been a backlash against this point of view, one which not only supports giving women the opportunity to be primary caretakers during the work week but men as well.
There is a straightforward solution to the problem: Provide parents with a choice of robust child care support or a tax credit, at least for three years, for a stay-at-home parent, for a mother or father. For example, families might be provided with $15,000 of child-care support for their young child; or they might be provided with a $15,000 tax credit so that the mother or father (or both if they switch from time to time) stays at home to be the primary caretaker. This approach would support both models of parenting in the early years of a child's life. Addressing single parent homes would require special attention since a $15,000 tax credit or transfer payment would probably not be sufficient to support a family with one parent and one child.
The entire child-care problem is very complicated and resolving it will require a lot of money, whether it comes from the federal government, state governments, employers, employee payroll tax deductions, or some combination. Focusing on the child-care crisis -- which is related to the paid parental leave crisis since the child-care crisis is larger to the extent that we do not have a paid parental leave policy -- may be more prudent at this time since momentum has been lost on the paid parental leave effort. The debate will never be resolved about the best way to raise children, and that is why we must support both sides of the debate. Congress must support both models for raising children and parental choices about work/family balance.