May 06, 2004

What to do with the little one?

An (unidentified) colleague of mine recently had a baby, and her big dilemma at the moment is finding someone to take care of the kid once her three-month paid maternal leave runs out. Her employers offer a daycare service for an ungodly $1800 per month, which is obviously out of the question. (And imagine what low-income mothers go through—the current federal subsidy under TANF amounts to around $475/child.) So that leaves ad hoc arrangements—finding a friend, a babysitter, a relative. Read: chaotic and stressful. Is this honestly the best we can do?

According to The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the answer, apparently, is yes. Mothers, especially working mothers, have to juggle their baby among strangers:
More mothers would likely use formal care if they could afford it or if they were provided assistance to pay the high costs of this kind of care. Studies consistently show that formal care is the most reliable and provides the highest quality care, and that mothers report wanting to use it. However, the high costs of care put it out of reach for many low-income mothers. Subsidies provided by the government do not do enough to help most low-income mothers who need help paying for child care. A report by the Department of Health and Human Services found that only 15 percent of children eligible for federal funds for child care assistance received any aid in 1999 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1999) . Thus, most mothers had to find alternative ways of acquiring child care for their children while they are at work, be it looking to relatives, other informal arrangements, or finding more affordable formal daycare, if possible.
In my opinion, we should make formal daycare affordable and easy for all mothers, not just low-income ones—staying within budget constraints, of course. If, like Philip Longman, we fret that not enough people are having kids, then maybe we shouldn't make it such an ordeal to have kids in the first place.

Longman thinks that certain incentives—like slashing the payroll tax for parents—can induce parents to have more kids. This seems questionable, since generous welfare states like Japan and Germany have witnessed a decline in population growth. Still, reducing day care hassles would certainly make bigger families a reasonable prospect.

(Along the same lines, everyone should definitely take a peek at Anne Alstott's ideas on supporting childraising.)
-- Brad Plumer 12:14 AM || ||