President Biden’s recently announced American Families Plan goes all-in on public preschool and subsidized daycare, policies that use the state to empower a subsidized and distorted market at the expense of the family by forcing parents to work when they’d rather stay home.
For left-wing politicians like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who described family-provided child care as “tired” compared to the “wired” statist solution, that sounds just fine. Venture capitalist and likely future U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance takes the opposite view.
Vance cites an American Compass study that found poor and working-class parents of children under five greatly prefer having one parent stay home to provide child care. Upper-class parents, on the other hand, would rather drop the kids at daycare and focus on their high-powered careers, and they assume that the plebs want (or at least ought to want) the same thing. Vance called this attitude and the proposals that grow out of it “class war against normal people.”
As with so many policy debates, this one is nothing new. In his 1910 book “What’s Wrong with the World,” British journalist G.K. Chesterton perceived that “progressive fads” frequently “repose upon some experience peculiar to the rich.” He even applied this principle specifically to family policy. “The cultured class is shrieking to be let out of the decent home,” Chesterton wrote, “just as the working class is shouting to be let into it.”
More than a century later, the shouting continues on both sides. Many young couples find themselves cut off from extended family support, unable to live their desired lifestyle on one income, and unwilling to spend most of one parent’s paycheck on daycare so strangers can raise their kids. This situation is simply untenable.
The desire to help these families is an admirable one, but it’s important to remember that government never just helps — it also incentivizes. The American Families Plan includes an expanded child tax credit, which the Biden administration plans to turn into direct monthly payments. Both of these are positive steps that will empower families and lift children out of poverty. The plan’s other provisions, however, are designed to force parents into the workforce and young children into government-run preschools.
By subsidizing the cost of daycare (capped at 7 percent of earnings) but not the lost income resulting from one parent staying home, Biden is signaling to poor and working-class families he doesn’t care about their preferences. He wants them at work and their kids in public preschools where kids can be crammed full of critical race theory and radical gender ideology and get a head start on despising their parents and everything they stand for. Private daycares and preschools will probably qualify for subsidies, but even so, 7 percent of household income — over $5,000 for a couple making $75,000 a year — is far more expensive than free.
Thankfully, there are better options. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who rightly points out that current tax policy “tilt[s] the deck in favor of two-earner households,” proposes a new “Parent Tax Credit.” This plan would give $1,000 a month to all married parents and $500 a month to all single parents with no strings attached. Families could then use that money to replace lost wages, pay for any kind of preschool or daycare, rent a bigger apartment so grandma could move in and help with the kids, or whatever other solution they think up.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., has introduced a similar proposal to provide monthly payments of $350 for each child younger than six and $250 for each child between six and 18, rather than the static amount Hawley proposed. Romney, whose Family Security Act has the added benefit of being deficit-neutral and of phasing out benefits for higher earners, even suggested eliminating the existing Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to provide “equal treatment for both working and stay-at-home parents.”
Some Republicans, of course, are not fans of these proposals. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mike Lee, R-Utah., released a joint statement in which they denounced Romney’s plan as “welfare” and insisted that an “essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work.” But what they’re really saying is that they’d rather subsidize the work than the family.
They believe that the benefits of creating jobs for would-be stay-at-home parents and daycare workers outweigh the less tangible developmental benefits young children gain from being raised at home. Yet they have no right to enforce that preference. Indeed, Rubio and Lee’s attitude embodies the same paternalism toward the poor and the same disdain for stay-at-home parents of which conservatives so often accuse leftists.
Biden’s American Families Plan would indeed make it easier for American families to have children, but the method we choose to encourage child-rearing matters. Not only would subsidized daycare and government preschool ignore the preferences of lower-class Americans, but it would also reassign responsibility for child care from the home to the “experts” of state and market.
The home was once a locus of production whose exertions hardly troubled the vast web of what we call “the economy.” Clothes were made and mended there. Children were reared and educated. Kitchen gardens were tended and meals cooked from scratch. Neighbors and relatives assembled to tackle large projects like barn-raisings through voluntary mutual aid. Even entertainment — in the form of folk songs and parlor games — was conjured up seemingly ex nihilo.
Today, the home is far too often a place of mere consumption — a dormitory to which two career professionals and an indeterminate number of diminutive full-time students return each night to watch Netflix, eat pre-packaged Blue Apron dinners, and holler at Alexa to summon more tube socks or paper towels or whatever else the household needs.
Perhaps they have also forgotten that true freedom is preserved in the home; that, as Chesterton put it, “the home is the one anarchist institution … it is older than law, and stands outside the State … It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.” Or perhaps they remember all too well. Perhaps they know exactly what they’re doing.