Senator Warren Hasn’t a Clue About Family Policy

February 27, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, has trotted out her proposal for kids and their care in the unlikely event she becomes president.  Her proposal is a bad one (National Review, 2/20/19). 

Under it, every parent earning up to twice the poverty level would receive free daycare, i.e. the taxpayers would foot the bill.  Parents earning over that amount would see their daycare payments capped at 7% of their income.  So, in all likelihood, taxpayers would pay some for them too.

As purely a financial matter, the proposal is a non-starter.  There are about 15.5 million children living under the poverty line now.  If there are twice that number in households up to twice the poverty level of income, that would mean 31 million kids.  Now, the cost of daycare varies from place to place.  It’s more expensive in New York and California than in Alabama and Iowa.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average range is between $4,000 per year and $22,600.  Of course infant care is significantly more expensive than that for older kids.  The lure of free daycare would hugely increase the number of parents opting for it.  Warren says her proposal would require $1 trillion over a decade, which looks to significantly underestimate its cost.

That’s the more so because the price of daycare, already high, would skyrocket under Warren’s plans.  It would do so because the promise of free care would lure many parents into the market who otherwise make do with parental care, kinship care and that of friends and neighbors.  When Quebec tried something far less comprehensive in the 90s, the number of kids in daycare increased by a third. So demand would greatly increase. 

So would regulations.  If Uncle Sam is paying the bills, Uncle Sam gets to say what he pays for and he’s not about to pay for substandard daycare if he can help it.  Ergo, a mass of new federal – or federally mandated – regulations would crop up on daycare operators and their facilities with which everyone will have to comply. 

But that’s just the economics of the proposal.  Far worse than the cost in dollars is the cost to families and children.  First, every increase in daycare is a decrease in fathers’ ability to care for their kids.  Indeed, the growth of the daycare industry has come hand-in-hand with the growth in divorce and single-mother childbearing.  Courts that hand out divorces like candy and routinely kick fit fathers to the curb necessarily abet the growth of daycare.  How could they not?

So if we offer free daycare, the impetus for mothers to include fathers in the lives of their children can only decline.  Given that there are seldom any consequences for a mother who ignores a father’s parenting time order, it’s all but a certainty that Warren’s proposal would give a big boost to the number of children who don’t see their dads.  They already amount to about 30% of all children, so it’s not as if we need to do more in that regard.

What about the kids?  Serious studies of kids in daycare are troubling, as I’ve written here and elsewhere.  In a nutshell, they have higher stress levels than do kids who spend the day with Dad or a relative and that stress can impact their emotional and behavioral well-being for years – even decades – to come.  Dr. Anna Machin writes in her book The Life of Dad about stress in young children:

[C]ontinued exposure to stress is detrimental, particularly when an individual is young and their brain is still developing, as flooding the brain with cortisol disrupts the creation of the normal neural pathways.  This invariably leads to behavioural and emotional issues in child – and adulthood.

Here’s some of what I wrote in 2016.  Back in 1997, the province of Quebec introduced heavily-subsidized daycare for four and five-year-olds.  One result, as I mentioned previously, was a 33% increase in the number of kids in daycare.  It also provided an excellent opportunity for researchers to study daycare’s impact on kids.

The first award-winning study came in 2009. It concluded that,

We report striking evidence that children’s outcomes have worsened since the program was introduced. We also find suggestive evidence that families we study became more stressed with the introduction of the program. This is manifested in increased aggressiveness and anxiety for the children; more hostile, less consistent parenting for the adults; and worse adult mental health and relationship satisfaction.

A second study, conducted in 2014, found daycare to be particularly detrimental to younger children.

These researchers (like others) uncovered widespread negative consequences, but they emphasized that earlier exposure to the child-care system resulted in larger problems. They wrote:

The estimates indicate that on average, children who gain access to subsidized child care at earlier ages experience significantly larger negative impacts on motor-social developmental scores, self-reported health status and behavioral outcomes including physical aggression and emotional anxiety.

Finally, a 2015 study found the detriments of daycare lasting well into children’s teen years.

While the researchers found that the introduction of the Quebec daycare program had “little impact on cognitive test scores,” they found that the program’s negative effects on non-cognitive skills appear to strongly persist into school years, and in many instances grow larger as children get older. Problems such as anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity were worse in older children than younger ones exposed to the Quebec system. Moreover, there was “a worsening of both health and life satisfaction among those older youths exposed to the Quebec child care program.”

The study’s most startling discovery is that the program appears to have driven an increase in criminal behavior among teens.

Nice.  This is what Senator Warren wants, mostly for America’s least affluent kids. 

Warren of course will present this as a boon to working women and will cite all sorts of dodgy data for the proposition that this society does them dirt and must improve.  That’s a bogus defense.  We need to encourage married childbearing, especially to adults at the bottom of the pay scale.  After all, they’re the ones having kids without being married.  Just 8% of adults with a college degree or more have kids out of wedlock.  Upwards of 50% of those without a degree do.  If you want to know where poverty comes from, start there.  And don’t try to solve the problem by encouraging more out-of-wedlock childbearing and the further sidelining of fathers.

The solution is for Mom and Dad to raise kids together.  The second choice isn’t daycare, but kinship care, i.e. that performed by extended family members.  The kids do better and so does the economy. 

Senator Warren’s idea belongs in the waste bin of history.

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