Like many progressives, I like the Biden government’s plan to invest in infrastructure, but I really like their plans to invest more in people. There are good reasons to improve physical assets such as roads, water supplies and broadband networks. There are strong arguments for helping families with children more.
For Republican politicians, however, the opposite is true. Republican Party opposition to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure projects seemed weak, mainly involving puns on the meaning of infrastructure and the tired repetition of old slogans about big government and the fact that increases in taxes kill jobs.
The attacks on the family plan, however, were truly toxic. Republicans seem deeply angered by the proposals to spend more on child care and education, which doesn’t mean their arguments are fair.
How do we know we should be spending more with families? After all, there is a lot of evidence that there are big benefits in helping children and their parents – stronger evidence, frankly, than the high benefits that exist for improving physical infrastructure. We are a family business.
For example, researchers looked at the long-term effects of the food stamp program, which gradually spread across the country in the 1960s and 1970s.
According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, children who had access to food stamps from the start “grew into better educated adults and lead healthier, longer and more productive lives.”
Researchers found similar effects in children whose families received the Medicaid income tax and the health care credit. So there is good reason to believe that giving more help to families with children, in addition to helping Americans in need, would strengthen our economy in the long run.
And I can’t help but compare the strong evidence for the economic benefits of helping children with the complete lack of evidence on the economic compensation for tax cuts, which have long been the right answer to any problem.
But the Great and the Old Party are firmly opposed to more help for families. Republicans on the House Tax and Budget Committee issued a statement denouncing “the Democrats’ completely socialist agenda.”
During Biden’s speech to Congress last week, Senator Marsha Blackburn tweeted: “You know who really liked universal child care,” with a link to a Times report from decades ago on child care in the Soviet Union. (Do you know who has universally available daycare centers today? That socialist hell, Denmark.)
What is so terrible about child care? Interestingly, Republicans are trying to make it less about economics and more about culture warfare, denouncing Biden’s plans as “left social engineering.”
JD Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” said universal child care is “a class war on normal people” because “normal Americans care more about their families than their jobs.”
So, is this a real statement about “normal Americans”? And do people like Vance argue in good faith?
Well, at the moment, there don’t seem to be a lot of normal people by Vance’s criteria. Only 14% of children grow up in 1950s TV series families, with a working dad and a stay-at-home mom in their first marriage. (Only half of the children had families like this at the time.)
It is true that women without a college degree are less likely than the more educated to have a job – but this is also true for men, suggesting that low employment is more related to lack of opportunities and , of course, at the cost of daycare. than with traditional values.
Also, if Republicans were really concerned about imposing elite values, they would ask them to give families enough to live without their mothers having to work. In fact, this House statement denouncing Biden’s plans specifically condemned the proposed tax credits for families with children for offering “jobless welfare.”
The logic seems to be that offering child care is bad because it is a liberal plot to force mothers out of the house and find jobs, but giving unconditional help to families is also bad because it would allow mothers to stay home instead of finding a job.
Now there is a real question as to how family support should go. Why pay for child care? Why not just give the money to families and give them the choice to use it for child care or to stay at home?
A quick response is that the Biden government is already providing families with financial assistance unrelated to child care; in fact, your plans will likely cut child poverty in half. Help for children would be a complement.
Another quick answer is that the daycare market is perhaps performing as poorly as the health insurance market, for many of the same reasons: lack of information, lack of confidence and the like. Just giving people money to buy health insurance doesn’t work, as we know; Just giving people money to pay for child care would probably also work badly.
Either way, we could and maybe should discuss whether parents who choose not to put their children in day care should be receiving money. But that’s the right way to think about it. And I guarantee you the Republicans won’t get into this discussion; they come to bury help for families, not to improve it.
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