The media is hyping President Biden’s soon to be unveiled “American Families Plan” as the surefire way to not only solve the problems of stressed out working moms and dads, but also to usher in a permanently booming economy.
Sound too good to be true? That’s probably because it is. We’ve all heard proposals like this before, and know they are bound to disappoint. But to really evaluate this plan, we need a lot more detail. Here are a few big questions Americans—and especially working parents—should ask before jumping on the bandwagon in support of this plan.
This plan promises to spend another $1 trillion overall, $225 billion of which is tagged for “childcare.” But what does this mean exactly? Is that spending just going to be layered on existing grants to states to support their current childcare program services?
This is important because the type of childcare facilities that most parents want is not the kind of childcare facilities that governments tend to fund. Most parents prefer family or home-based daycare centers. Unfortunately, across the country, the number of home-based daycare providers have been declining. In fact, the number of home-based licensed family childcare providers fell by about 50%, from nearly 200,000 providers in 2005 to 100,000 in 2017.
Particularly in the COVID era, parents have reason to think that smaller facilities (which put children and families in contact with fewer people) are preferable to large facilities that serve hundreds of kids.
Governments tend to subsidize larger, institutional child care centers instead, making it harder for home-based child care centers to compete and survive, and leaving some families with inferior options. Policymakers would be wise to examine unnecessary red tape that can be removed for would-be family daycare centers, before they throw billions more at the industry. In fact, instead of giving this money to governments to create or subsidize facilities that may not be what parents really want or need, how about giving parents those resources so that they have more capacity to engage childcare help, whatever form that may take?
Parents have just endured a year plus of being disappointed by public schools, many of which refused to provide in-person instruction and care in 2020-2021. While private schools generally fought to stay open and serve their students and families, public schools fought to keep their doors closed as long as possible and ensure that teachers—even those that had vaccine access—could work online. That helped drive millions of women out of the workforce (and undoubtedly (and I know this all too personally) millions more towards a mental health crisis).
Frustrated parents around the country now want more options and control of their kids’ education. They don’t want to be forever at the mercy of public school systems that put their interests last, especially when, at the same time, the public school establishment increasingly seems more interested in indoctrinating kids about racism and virtue signaling about equity than imparting necessary fundamentals and life skills.
Will the universal pre-K program simply be an expansion of our existing public K-12 system that couldn’t get it together during COVID and hasn’t done a very good job teaching kids—particularly kids from low-income families—basic skills like reading, writing, and mathematics in the best of times? If so, why should we be excited about that?
Paid Family Leave:
Americans overwhelmingly want something done to help workers who lack paid leave benefits. But how will this latest government paid leave proposal impact all the existing paid leave programs that are already out there? After all, most full-time workers do have some paid leave benefits, including many packages that fully replace wages during sick leave and even parental leave. Thirty percent of workers live in states and jurisdictions that are already collecting taxes from them for a specific government paid leave program. Will this program now displace those programs?
Workers should be warned that a paid leave mandate or new entitlement program will mean lower wages or higher tax payments to compensate for the costs of additional paid time off. Women should be particularly concerned that these paid leave mandates could also make it harder for them to negotiate the kinds of flexible work arrangements that have made it easier for them to build work relationships that make sense for them. If the government is now going to require that every workplace now offers and administers a set benefit package, employers may find it necessary to standardize their employment relationships, rather than offering work-from-home opportunities and flex-time packages. Women are likely to find that what government thinks as a gift of flexibility isn’t very flexible at all, but rather pushes us back into 9-to-5, one-size-has-to-fit-all work world.
Women should also take note that while proponents of family leave point to European Union companies as models for the U.S. and nirvana for women, women in these countries are less likely than women here to reach the upper echelons of private companies and face larger gender wage gaps.
There are other ways to support workers who need time off for work without transforming the work contract of every single working American. Would the Biden administration consider a targeted approach?
These are just a few questions that need to be answered before parents can judge if the “American Families Plan” will really help them, or if it is just more spending on something that sounds great, but doesn’t live up to its name.