Elizabeth Warren's Child Care Plan Is An Investment in Our Future
Thank you, Senator Elizabeth Warren for taking a public position on child care so early in the campaign. Despite the claim that children are “the future”, and research on the importance of infant brain development, in the past 40 years American public policy has paid scant attention the importance of early childhood education. As Senator Warren notes, early education is a fiscally sound investment for the country. It can increase income, reduce welfare dependence, and reduce the likelihood of substance abuse and criminal justice involvement.
When Nixon vetoed the last effort to pass universal child care in 1973, the understanding of child care as a universal need lost momentum. Though President Trump and his daughter Ivanka mentioned the importance of child care during the campaign, he has done nothing to address it. Their proposal was a meager tax credit that would have mostly only affected the upper middle class and rich.
Elizabeth Warren’s proposal is much more expansive and takes on the three major problems that that plague childcare in the US: quality, affordability, and availability. Senator Warren proposes paying for her universal child care plan with a tax on extreme wealth. Shifting the cost of child care onto the top 1% should not be controversial. Whether or not she receives the Democratic nomination, Warren may have accomplished something great just by keeping child care on the national agenda. By offering a solution, she has demonstrated that providing universal child care should not be seen as an insurmountable task.
In addition, she identified the need to pay child care workers a fair wage, commensurate with that of other teachers. In our qualitative research with child care providers in New York, Dr. Corey Shdaimah and I found that child care workers not only struggled financially but felt that their low pay was indicative of the respect they received as professionals. Many educated child care providers cited this as a reason they were considering leaving the profession. Turnover can reduce quality of care.
Despite the poor pay for child care workers, the cost of center based child care for a 4 year old can be as much as 40-50% of the median income of a single parent or 10-15% of the median income for a two parent family. Infant care is more expensive, rising to as much as 70% of the income of a single parent or 18.6% of a two parent family’s income. Warren proposes free care for people earning up to 200 percent of the poverty line, and a charge of no more than 7% of income thereafter. If we, as a society, care about children, spending money on child care should be a no brainer.
Lastly, as Senator Warren notes, many people lack access to quality care. Her proposal suggests that the federal government support existing locally based non-profits, schools, cities and states that already have programs in place, to expand programming makes it feasible. Existing programs are in the best position to expand and improve quality. At the same time, she proposes creating national standards to ensure both quality and fair pay for workers. Both are essential. Not only has Senator Warren thought about child care needs, she has also created a feasible proposal for addressing this need. A substantive plan like hers is long overdue.
Elizabeth Palley is the co-author of In Our Hands: The Struggle for US Child Care Policy (NYU, 2014) and a Professor of Social Work at Adelphi University.