Biden’s elitist work-family policy won’t work for most families
President Biden’s $1.8-trillion American Families Plan suffers from a common problem in work-family policy today. Much of it favors the family preferences of one group, our elites, rather than giving parents of every social background the choices they really want. “I think the Biden child care proposal was frankly designed by people who think the ideal family model is two parents working full-time and outsourcing child care,” observed author and potential Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance. “That is a problem because most people who live in the country don’t want that.”
Vance’s point is that the Biden administration’s plan to spend an extra $225 billion to expand child care, after already boosting child care spending by $40 billion in the American Rescue Plan, ends up supporting just one model of family life. That model is one in which both parents of young children work full-time and delegate the care of those children to institutional daycare. This is the most popular model for the American upper-class, according to a recent YouGov survey by American Compass.
This is also the model the White House is clearly the most enamored with. “We want parents to be in the work force, especially mothers,” Susan Rice, head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told The New York Times. The only problem with the White House’s view is that it is not shared by a majority of the middle class, working class or the poor. Their favorite model when it comes to caring for young children? Having one parent work and one parent at home.
Though, to be honest, what is striking in the data on ordinary Americans’ preferences about how best to combine work and family when young children are in the home is that no one preference captures the majority of the public’s allegiance. Some parents prefer a stay-at-home parent, others kin care, others a home daycare and still others institutional child care. Given the profound pluralism on this question, why don’t we just give parents the choice about how to best care for their young children?
It is for that reason that we support the American Families Plan to spend $450 billion on an expanded child tax credit. This measure is authentically pro-family, insofar as it gives families the ability to choose the best work-family option for them and their kids. We hope that moderates such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) can work with the Biden administration to get this part of his plan passed.
After all, in survey after survey, parents say they wish they had more flexibility in their careers. The early years of a child’s life are irreplaceably precious and important for the child’s later development. A majority of moms – and many dads – tell pollsters they would ideally like to work part-time or take time out of the labor force to cherish those moments. The advantage of a broad-based child allowance, like the one included in the American Rescue Plan or the alternative proposed by Romney, is that it ensures that all families, not just those with both parents in the labor force, get about $350 dollars per month to pay for whatever approach to caring for their kids they deem best.
Putting more money in the pockets of parents gives moms and dads more flexibility to afford a church-based daycare or preschool, to leave baby with a grandparent for a part-time shift or to cover basic expenses while staying home. Moreover, the best social science suggests caution on what a large-scale child care expansion could do to kids across the nation. Studies from Quebec show that children, especially boys, exhibited more behavioral problems after the province introduced universal daycare in the 1990s.
The American Rescue Plan’s recent assistance to child care was timely and generous, and badly needed by the child care industry. But including a massive expansion of government-provided daycare in a new legislative package is a bad idea. We should instead empower families by supporting policies that allow them to choose how best to care for their young ones, rather than a one-size-fits-all option that aligns only with the preferences of our elite.
That’s why Sens. Manchin and Romney should work with the Biden administration to get a generous child allowance passed that gives parents real money (like $4,200 per year per young child), allowing them to make the choice that’s best for them, instead of assuming that Washington elites know best.
Helen Alvaré is professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. Brad Wilcox is professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and a senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies.