News & Media

Challenging the Child Care Narrative

Nov 30 2020

Last month the Wall Street Journal posted an article citing one Austrian study on maternal employment to make the case against increasing U.S. federal investment in child care and paid leave. After 20 + years’ experience in early child care, the David and Laura Merage Foundation has a differing opinion on how to tackle the child care crisis and challenging the existing narrative is a vital start.

David Merage stated, “As a business man, a philanthropist and a grandparent, it’s essential that I speak up to say the existing narrative around child care isn’t complete. We know this issue is complex and we need to start educating parents, grandparents, allies, care providers and politicians on achievable bipartisan solutions.”

The concern with “A Family Policy Warning” (Nov. 20) is it cites a single study about Austria to make the broad claim that child-care affordability “likely won’t have the transformative effects that proponents hope” in the U.S. One study on Austrian maternal employment provides slim evidence to claim that American initiatives for affordable and high-quality early child care will fail. In fact, there have been many initiatives in America that show that supporting working families with child care costs and access has greatly helped communities. After Washington, D.C., began offering two years of universal preschool, the city’s maternal labor-force participation rate increased by approximately 12 percentage points, with 10 percentage points attributable to preschool expansion. On Nov. 3, over two-thirds of Coloradans voted for Proposition EE, an initiative that will generate over $2 billion over 10 years to support universal preschool for four-year-olds in the state.

The reality is that American children need high-quality child care, but hardworking families struggle to afford it. So what can we really do about it? There are two answers, the first is in changing the narrative from a personal financial failing to a collective solution. The second is in bipartisan reform that we’ve seen in other industries that leverages personal, employer, and government responsibilities. For example, in Higher Education there are multiple sources of public and private financial mechanisms, including employer’s contributions, which support the cost. What we have ended up with is tuition at Colorado State University is $12,500 per year while the cost of childcare on their campus is $18,500. 

Another challenge of addressing the child care crisis is a lack of adequate supply, which is a major pain point for working parents and their employers. Despite decades of advocacy and well-intentioned philanthropic interventions, parents are still priced out of quality. The lack of adequate supply is directly linked to the financial constraints of child care customers. Over 86% of the care is market based, yet it is a market that does not reposed to typical supply and demand forces. The supply would increase if parents could choose their provider based on cost and quality, and not solely on affordability.

The child care crisis deserves a more complex narrative as it will take intricate solutions to make a meaningful impact for generations to come.