What Do Working Families Need Even More Than Paid Leave?

Photo: Michelle Del Guercio/Science Source/Getty Images

If you’re a parent, here’s something you already know: Child care is extremely expensive. On Thursday, the New York Times reported on research demonstrating just how badly Americans need this to change.

The report explains several relevant studies, the first of which followed a program for low-income families in North Carolina. Researchers found that children — especially boys — who had access to high-quality child care fared much better as adults: “In their mid-30s, men who attended the program were 33 percent less likely to be drug users, had fewer misdemeanor arrests, and were less likely to have high blood pressure.”

The study out of North Carolina also found that mothers whose children had access to high-quality child care earned more money, a finding echoed in another study comparing child-care assistance policies across 22 industrialized countries. From the Times: “More than parental leave or flexible schedules, it was government spending on early childhood care and education that had the single biggest effect on boosting women’s employment, earnings and fertility rate and on decreasing gender pay gaps.” Mirroring its dismal record on paid leave, the United States spends the least — .4 percent of GDP — on child care, the study found.

“Families are just not able to succeed the way that it’s set up,” a mother of two from Portland, Oregon, told the Times. What does the new administration plan to do about this?

President Trump’s plan, championed by his daughter Ivanka, has mentioned deducting the price of child care from parents’ income taxes (with income limits for two-parent homes at $500,000, or $250,000 individually), pretax dependent-care savings accounts, and giving child-care rebates to parents for whom the deduction does not apply. Back to the Times’ staggering report: “Yet the aid he has proposed pales next to the actual cost of care. According to the Tax Policy Center, [Trump’s plan] would increase the after-tax income of families with children by an average of 0.2 percent, or $190. For families with incomes below $40,000, the annual savings would be $20 or less.”

Here’s some back-of-the-envelope math: I am part of a two-income household that pulls in more than $40,000 but less than $500,000 a year. We pay $23,800 annually for my son’s day care. Under this plan, we can budget child care as more like $23,610, a monthly savings of about $15.80. Though we certainly feel the financial effects of paying for child care, my family can afford to keep functioning. Our country’s gaping problem is in not helping the families who cannot.

What Do Working Families Need Even More Than Paid Leave?