Elizabeth Warren recently unveiled her proposal for universal childcare and has made the push one of the foundational issues of her campaign. It’s worth looking at the details of the plan, seeing how it compares to the status quo, and then comparing it to other universal child care plans. It’s a good first step, but there are some glaring issues, mainly its lack of universality and failure to fund in home childcare, which if solved would make it a great first step.
First, Why it Matters, Childcare is a Significant Hurdle for Millions of Americans
Childcare is no small thing, estimated costs range from 8% to 25% of annual income for those who pay for childcare services. The cost depends on the state with Massachusetts coming in at the top with an average cost of 16% of a families income going to childcare each year. For low income families these numbers are close to 50% according to the Center for American Progress. For millions of American in home care or family are the only available care given restraints on cost and availability. Childcare is a significant crisis in America, it disproportionately impacts the poor, people of color, and obviously, women.
Elizabeth Warren’s plan aims to remedy this problem by providing childcare to everyone. For families making 200% of the federal poverty line, the care would be free. Which would be $32,920 for a family of two, or $41,560 for a family of three. For everyone else it would be priced on a sliding scale based on income, topping out at 7% of a families income. The care itself would be provided by local school districts, added care and educational standards would be enforced, and childcare workers pay would be similar to that of teachers in the local school district.
All in all it’s estimated to cost $1.7 billion dollars over the course of 10 years and Warren would fund it through revenue gained via her wealth tax proposal, which would bring in more than enough to fund this and much more. It’s a much needed solution to a problem which plagues millions of American families low income and otherwise. However, when compared to other plans, such as Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project’s “Family Fun Pack” there are some glaring flaws a few simple fixes would go a long way toward resolving.
Make it Universal and Pay People for In Home Child Care
As stated above, millions of people pay outrageous costs for their childcare, but even more rely on family or in-home care to provide care for their children. Unfortunately Elizabeth Warren’s plan does nothing in the way of subsidizing in-home care, which disproportionately impacts the lowest income families and families of color.
In the Family Fun Pack people are paid for this labor. Bruenig calculates a week allowance using the following formula. First, the average childcare worker earns an average of $22,290 a year. However, the child to adult ratio in child care facilities is supposed to be around 4 to 1, so divide the $22,290 by four, get ~$5,730, or roughly $110 dollars a week, per child. This is a significant amount of money that families deserve and that reimburses millions of Americans for very real labor they now do for free. This is one major pitfall of Elizabeth Warren’s plan, by tying childcare to particular child care center, it effectively keeps millions of Americans from accessing the services to begin with.
A less pressing concern perhaps, but another limitation in Elizabeth Warren’s approach compared to that of the Family Fun Pack, is Warren’s plan’s lack of universality. Warren’s plan forces upper income families to contribute to their childcare, while the revenue saving appeal is clear, the administrative ease of managing a universal program might outweigh save more money than the processes required to means test it to begin with. Further, there is an argument that tying the interests of the wealthy and powerful to the success of universal public institutions is a good thing. Just like the wealthier parents in any given community are the most likely to spearhead PTA initiatives and help fund schools, so too are these parents the most likely to support a daycare center. Giving them a stake in the system is only a positive.
All in all Elizabeth Warren’s plan is good. The fact that a politician of her stature is forcing the issue of childcare front and center is even better. For millions of Americans this is a fundamental and life limiting problem. Which is why more expansive approaches like the Family Fun Pack may be preferred. However, Elizabeth Warren’s plan is a good first step and for that she should be applauded.