Child care subsidies would send 1.2 million women into the workforce, new paper finds
If child care subsidies like those proposed by the Biden administration were enacted — not the likeliest of scenarios at this point — a significant number of women would enter the job market, Emily writes.
- A new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows this could amount to more than a million American moms joining the full-time workforce.
Why it matters: Despite the policy's slim chances, this is an important paper for the longer term analysis of the issue — likely the first quantitative look at how this type of proposal would affect maternal employment, the cost and quality of child care, and family incomes.
- It also suggests a possible solution to the country's stubbornly persistent labor shortage.
Details: The researchers, a team of eight economists who study child care and early education, modeled out the effects of the proposal in Biden's Build Back Better plan — which would cap the amount families spend on child care, for children 5 and under, at no more than 7% of income for those earning up to 250% of median income.
- Under the BBB scenario, the share of lower income mothers employed full time would increase by 18 percentage points; while overall there'd be a 10 point increase, amounting to 1.2 million moms.
- Meanwhile, wages for child care work — one of the lowest paying sectors in the U.S. — would increase between 19%-29%, depending on the education level of the worker.
- Finally, the researchers find that the increase in spending would enable more families to access higher-quality care. And it would reduce the amount of money most households pay out of pocket for care.
Zoom out: The U.S. lags most other high-income countries in terms of maternal employment.
- In 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, 68% of mothers with children ages 3-5 were employed in the U.S., ranking the country 32nd on a list of 40.
- The researchers estimate that broad child care support along the lines of the administration's proposal would push the rate up to 78%, putting it in 9th place.
Between the lines: The public spends only $1,500 annually on children up until age five, according to a paper from last year. Then, when kids the enter k-12 system, that number shoots to $12,800.
- Yet researchers have found support in the earliest years is critical to their development and well-being.
- The country also benefits from a more educated and productive workforce in the long term, as I wrote in the New York Times last year.
The bottom line: At the moment, though, with inflation on everyone's mind, this kind of fiscal spending seems far off.