For all the dishonesty on display in the Democratic primary, the candidates have been forthright about their desire to have government functionaries raise your children. The candidates’ various “universal child-care” schemes are transparent attempts to farm out child-care responsibilities away from mothers and fathers to federally funded service workers.
The model of domestic life that such policies would encourage is quite unpopular. Nearly 60 percent of Americans — and a majority of both registered Republicans and registered Democrats — believe that children are better off with one parent at home than they would be in a day-care arrangement. The social-science literature tends to offer qualified support for that view. Beyond the practical effects of day-care on children, many parents — even those already in the workforce — would prefer to be home with their children if they could afford to be. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, for instance, 56 percent of women and 26 percent of men with children under the age of 18 said they would rather remain at home than enter the workforce, if given the choice.
But many progressive activists have long favored policies that would incentivize parents to remain in the workforce while the federal government subsidizes care for their children. Some have called for a “universal child-care” scheme as a means of increasing female participation in the work force and bolstering economic growth. Jordan Weissmann in Slate mentioned both as reasons to oppose more agnostic child-subsidy plans, which would allow families to choose whether to use the subsidies on day-care services or to offset the costs of raising the child at home. “One of the better arguments,” Weissmann wrote, “for providing child-care services — as opposed to straight cash payments to parents, as some policy wonks have proposed — is that encouraging women to stay in the workforce will create future economic gains.”
While the burden imposed by child-care services on families’ wallets is real, the solutions offered by progressives always seem to involve using federal dollars as an incentive to bring more women into the workforce — women who might otherwise be satisfied to remain at home and raise their children themselves.
During last week’s Democratic debate, the candidates proffered plans to fund pre-schools and day-care services with federal dollars, the ostensible aim of which was to allow parents to remain in the workforce after having kids. Elizabeth Warren — who once wrote a book that heralded the role of the “stay-at-home mother” as “the family’s ultimate insurance against unemployment or disability” — lamented “how many women of my generation just got knocked off the track and never got back on, how many of my daughter’s generation get knocked off the track and don’t get back on, how many mamas and daddies today are getting knocked off the track and never get back on.”
The reason why the anonymous “mamas and daddies” to whom Warren refers got “knocked off the track” of corporate life should not be mysterious. They had a baby, and, in many cases, one of the two parents wanted to remain home with the child. That it knocked some mothers off of the corporate “track” is in many cases irrelevant to the well-being of both the children and the mothers.
Pete Buttigieg was similarly frank as he explained his rationale for supporting a universal child-care policy. “I meet professionals,” he said, “who sometimes say that they’re working in order to be able to afford childcare in order to be able to be working.” Rather than ask these parents the obvious question — why they bothered having a child in the first place if they have no desire to raise it — Buttigieg decries the supposed unfairness of this arrangement:
It makes no sense, and it must change, and we shouldn’t be afraid to put federal dollars into making that a reality. Subsidizing childcare and making sure that we are building up a workforce of people who are paid at a decent level to offer early childhood education, as well as childcare writ large. We can do that. And until we do, this will be one of the biggest drivers of the gender pay gap. Because when somebody like the voter asking the question has to step out of the workforce because of that reason, she is at a disadvantage when she comes back in, and that can affect her pay for the rest of her career.
There was plenty of talk from Buttigieg and others about the “pay gap,” the imposition that children make on a woman’s career, and the various disadvantages that attend to leaving the corporate world to raise a child. The welfare of the actual child was hardly mentioned.
To the candidates and the progressive movement more broadly, the child is a functional obstacle to be overcome. If they were concerned solely about the costs of child care, there are plenty of subsidy schemes and tax credits that Democrats could support to ease the burdens on families. But it’s hard not to notice that every proposal they’ve raised would encourage more two-income households, more day-care centers, and more government involvement in child-rearing. One might be forgiven for thinking that a political party that advocates on-demand abortion has something other than the welfare of American children in mind.