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Are Americans 'Entitled' to Child Care?

by Countable | 9.15.17

What’s the story?

A new bill is coming to the Senate that will radically alter the lives of working parents: It could make child care a federal entitlement. Nearly half of two-parent families consist of both parents working full-time and over twenty million children live in single-parent households. Making child care a ‘right’ for all parents would have enormous implications for society and for the federal budget.

Why does it matter?

According to the Pew Research Center, in 46% of two-parent families both parents work full-time. The Census Bureau in 2016 said there were 50.7 million children living with two parents, so 23.3 million have two full-time, working parents.

Additionally, according to Pew there are another 23% of two parent families where one parent works full-time and the other works part-time. In some areas of the country there are enough job opportunities to arrange schedules to not have both parents working at the same time, making child care unnecessary. However, a 2015 Washington Post poll found that over 75% of female parents and 50% of male parents had passed up job opportunities or switched jobs in order to care for their children.

An August 2016 Center for American Progress report on childcare deserts — areas across the country where there are little to no options for quality, affordable, licensed child care — argues that child care is an essential part of employment infrastructure in the United States today:

"Child care is an essential part of employment infrastructure; as with roads and bridges, parents require child care to get to work. By investing in childcare infrastructure, as much as it does in bridges and roads, the federal government can support economic growth and family economic security.”

Twenty-seven Democratic senators have signed on to a bill that aims to address this challenge by establishing child care as a federal entitlement, like Social Security and Medicaid, reports Vox. The proposal is dead on arrival in a Republican-led Congress, but it brings attention to the plight of working families and raises compelling questions about the role of government in supporting them.

The White house has proposed the expansion of tax credits for childcare costs. This helps those who can afford quality care in the first place. But it does little for Americans who earn so little that they hardly pay any taxes. They would still have to pay for care, often as much as a third of the family income, without receiving a tax credit, according to the Center for American progress.

The Democrats’ new bill would guarantee preschool for 3 and 4 year olds and cap low to moderate income families’ contributions for child care at 7% of family income. It would also set up new regulations for childcare centers and mandate a raise in pay for childcare workers, in the hopes of dealing with supply issues.

The estimated bill for the program would be $60 billion annually. For comparison, in 2015 Social Security cost the federal government $888 billion, per the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Healthcare programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program and Obamacare subsidies) cost $938 billion.

What do you think?

Are Americans ‘Entitled’ to child care? Is the choice to have children a private decision or a social one? If it’s both, does society have an obligation to help people raise their children? Do you support the president’s plan to expand tax credits for childcare expenses or do you think the federal government should do more? Should the states be picking up the tab instead? In the budget, where should the money for universal child care come from?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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