The Corner

Help Boost the Economy: Stay Home with Your Kids

According to a new national study by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center in 2010 ranged from $4,650 in Mississippi to $18,200 in the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, the average annual cost of full-time care for a four-year old child in a center in 2010 ranged from $3,900 in Mississippi to $14,050 in the District of Columbia. That makes the national averages for full-time, center-based child care $11,425 for babies and $8,975 for preschoolers.

An earlier study by the same organization reported that at least 42 states have cut child-care programs as a result of the recession. “Although children did not cause the recession, this report clearly demonstrates that children are feeling the effects of it,” said Linda K. Smith, executive director of NACCRRA. She adds, “Child care is essential to working families, and working families are key to economic growth.”

That’s one perspective. Here’s another: Why not save the $11,425 or $8,975 and use it to stay home with your kids?

Ms. Smith is correct: “Working families,” a.k.a. dual-income families, are key to economic growth. They help boost the GDP — which is why economists and tax collectors cheer the working-mother phenomenon. As Megan McArdle, a senior editor of The Atlantic, writes about the lifestyle of the average working mother, “She will have to pay for child care. She may need to buy new work clothes. Money will be spent on commuting, and the family will probably shift away from homemade meals to costlier prepared foods. All these transactions further swell the national income accounts.” Indeed they do.

Here’s another sobering fact: “All the income growth in the U.S. since 1970 has come from women working outside the home,” writes Bridget Brennan, author of Why She Buys.

Feminists, child-care advocates, and left-leaning Americans (usually one in the same) don’t like the suggestion that staying home can in fact help the economy — but that’s because they haven’t connected the dots. Dual-earner households (and by that I mean parents of young children who both work full time) certainly make us richer as a nation, but the net result is a negative. For one thing, it puts the one-income family at a disadvantage, as these families struggle to make ends meet due to rising costs brought on by having double the amount of manpower in the workforce. Moreover, a nation of children who get dropped off each morning as they kick and scream for their mommies can hardly be described as a net positive.

Why, then, do we not encourage parents to stay home with their children when they’re young? Couldn’t this be one step toward rebuilding the economy?

Of course it could. But just as there are two political parties that can’t see eye to eye, there are two opposing philosophies that drive the work-and-family debate. One says, “Invest in child care. The economy will thrive, and children don’t really need their mothers — hired help will suffice.” The other says, “Invest in parenting. Not only is a parent at home best for the mental health of our nation’s children (thus costing us less down the road), it actually benefits us financially. If one parent stays home when their children are young, it negates the need for child care — thus liberating the government from a massive spending crisis.”

Even the eminent child psychologist, Dr. Stanley Greenspan, said the only way daycare can possibly improve is if fewer parents use it. Why not give it a try?

— Suzanne Venker is co-author with Phyllis Schlafly of The Flipside of Feminism

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