What can be done about child care?

After the pandemic started, Congress allocated some $24 billion in funding to help stabilize the child-care industry, which was hit particularly hard as parents pulled their kids out and kept them at home. This Saturday, that funding will go away, and many are terrified that tens of thousands of child-care providers, whose businesses are still struggling, will start to close up shop.

Two Post columnists, Alyssa Rosenberg and Marc A. Thiessen, recently collaborated on a project to help identify a bipartisan pro-family agenda, which included coming up with sustainable ways to tackle the child-care crisis. They were joined by their colleague Jason Rezaian to talk about their own experiences raising children today – and to think about what can be done when the government funding runs out.

Here is an edited excerpt:

Jason Rezaian: Because of the pandemic, we kept our kid at home until he was almost 2. He had very little socialization. There’s a limit to what you can teach your kids in your house. Getting your children into a scenario where they are with other kids, learning, interacting – and also learning from other adults besides you – is critical. You child’s growth makes your investment in child care feel worth it, right? And, of course, it also allows both my wife and me to work.

Marc, your kids are a little bit older than mine. Is this cost problem a perennial issue, or is it significantly worse now?

Marc A. Thiessen: It is worse. The inflation in child care is significantly higher than overall inflation, which is already high. It’s been a problem for a long time, and it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic.

But we are now facing a Catch-22. As Ronald Reagan famously said, there’s nothing so near eternal life as a temporary government program. Those who are trying to extend government child-care funding are proving him right.

The pandemic did create all sorts of difficulties for these child-care businesses. Many of them closed. Many of them are struggling. And because of inflation, because there’s a huge worker shortage for child care, as well as throughout the economy. But at the same time, the pandemic spending has unleashed inflation and made the labor shortage worse.

Rezaian: We’re facing this cliff in just a matter of days. What can be done right now to address this looming crisis?

Alyssa Rosenberg: Advocates are maybe hoping that if an emergency does actually result – if 3 million kids do lose care – that it will be a major impetus for action.

But I think a sustainable long-term solution would bring business in much more aggressively, because they are the third stakeholder here. Parents need their kids have a safe place to go during the day and they need to be able to go to work. Government has an inherent interest in the welfare of children. It comes into that most actively when public schooling starts. But businesses need workers to come to work, too, and yet they have offloaded this responsibility.

And there are other approaches. We are about to see a potential collapse in women’s workforce participation because of the collapse in child care. There is a whole conversation to be had about whether we would prefer an economy where it would be easier for one parent to stay at home without that becoming radically destabilizing. Elliot Haspel, a progressive child-care policy expert, has written that he would love to see a $15,000-per-kid child allowance that could function as a salary for stay-at-home parents.

Rezaian: That sounds like Reagan-type family values for the 21st century to me, Marc!


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