Forget the village already. It no longer takes a village to raise a child. It takes more and more government.
As you must recall, Hillary Clinton's 1996 bestselling book on child rearing was entitled It Takes a Village. In analysis this week of Clinton's recent post-Bernie pronouncements on child rearing, the Wall Street Journal plays on the famous title, with this headline: "It Takes a Government to Raise a Child."
When It Takes a Village came out, conservatives rightly countered that it takes not a village but parents to raise a child. Those were the good old days. Now, Mrs. Clinton, with some tugs from Senator Sanders, has evolved; if she becomes president, we'll see government doing more wrong things to solve the very real problems of working parents.
Something under a third of children today are cared for during the work day by a stay-at-home mother. One of the biggest problems working parents– especially low-income single mothers, whose need for an outside the home job is greatest–face is that day care is cripplingly expensive. According to one study, for example, the annual cost in 2014 for such care in an infant center was $5,496 in Mississippi, a poor state, and $16,549 in Massachusetts, a richer state. For a low-skilled mother especially, this severely eats into her take-home pay.
Mrs. Clinton proposes putting a 10 percent cap on the share of a family’s income that can go towards day care and covering the rest with tax benefits, direct cash payments, and scholarships. A bookkeeping nightmare that would wrap more families in red tape, this will ultimately be costly to the taxpayer. It also will convince more families that their partner in child rearing is the government. By the way, Mrs. Clinton also promises to raise the salaries of daycare workers, though she is endearingly mum on how this would be accomplished.
As it happens, childcare for parents who work is one of the concerns the Independent Women's Forum (disclaimer: my employer) addresses in our new Working for Women report. We propose increasing tax credits for kids and eliminating the regulations that make child care needlessly expensive. Our plan leaves the important decisions of child rearing where they belong: with the parents.
One of the reasons that day care is more expensive than public university tuition in many states is the endless regulation. It should go without saying that we want day care to be safe. It is important that day care workers are kind and professional and that children are in stimulating environments. But many regulations appear to be regulation for the sake of regulation.
Diana Thomas and Devon Gorry took a look at regulations for a Mercatus Center report entitled "Regulation and the Cost of Childcare." They found that many regulations do not improve the quality of childcare and yet add to the cost. While they emphasize the importance of training for staff, they find that making small adjustments in the ratio of staff to children can have a dramatic effect on costs. Allowing one more infant for each child, for example, could decrease costs by 9 or 20 percent, or between $850 to $1,890. That’s big savings for a working family. By reducing regulations–that is by government withdrawing to some extent rather than becoming more involved in our day to day lives–we can make childcare more affordable.
Clinton has already come out for doubling the spending on early education and creating universal pre-school. Sounds good, but there is no indication that the grandmother of all pre-K programs, Head Start, has any positive long-term effects for children. Mrs. Clinton also supports 12 weeks of mandatory paid leave. We're all in favor of new mothers (and fathers!) having time to welcome new additions to their families. If businesses can afford paid leave, they should be encouraged to do so. But some businesses can't and this is just one more regulation that is going to make hiring more expensive. A note to Mrs. Clinton: You can only have paid leave if you have a job.
The Wall Street Journal article cites a Government Accountability Office report that indicates there are now forty-five federal programs tasked with supporting care of children “from birth through age five." These programs are spread across a number of agencies. “Administering similar programs in different agencies can create an environment in which programs may not serve children and families as efficiently and effectively as possible,” GAO is quoted observing. What's Mrs. Clinton's response to family needs? More programs!
What we see in Mrs. Clinton's proposals are the predictable extension of government into ever more of what used to be considered private matters. It takes parents to raise children. And the more government backs off and empowers them to make their own decisions–and steps back also to allow an economy that gives them more choices–then the more they will be involved in bringing up their children and those children will be better off as a result.