The basic argument is that we should have highly skilled, quality childcare available for every child under the age of five in America. We should ensure this by paying a high wage and good benefits to those workers.
Let's unpack this a little.
Let's call skilled childcare workers someone with a degree in early childhood education. Those degrees currently pay pretty well, actually--north of $35,000 a year, according to the best estimates I can find on the web.
There are about 20 million children between the ages of 0 and four in the United States--call it 4 million in each year group. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Child development experts generally recommend that a single caregiver be responsible for no more than 3 or 4 infants (less than 1 year old) and toddlers (1 to 2 years old) or 6 or 7 preschool-aged children (between 2 and 5 years old). In before- and after-school programs, workers may be responsible for many school-aged children at a time.
Say we pop the little beauties into daycare at six months and leave them there until they're five. By my math, we'd need the following:
650,000 people caring for the nation's infants.
1 million people caring for the nation's toddlers
2 million people caring for the nation's 2-4 year olds.
Call it 3.5 million people, conservatively. The pricetag on just their wages would be $140 billion a year. You generally estimate 30-50% on top of salary for payroll taxes, training, and a decent benefits package, so call it $200 billion a year. That's before you do anything like heat the daycare center, buy insurance, pay rent, put someone in charge of handling the administrative work, and so forth.
But of course, at the current price, we don't have anything like 3.5 million women* with early childhood degrees scrambling to work in daycare centers. In order to get those women, I presume we will actually have to raise the price of their labor. Why? Well, ask yourself why you want this fabulous childcare. Answer: you do not want to spend your entire day in the company of one or more toddlers. That's your fascinating, adorable toddler. Presumably even less do you want to spend your entire day in the company of someone else's snotty nosed brat, getting sick every month from whatever the children are passing around, changing forty diapers a day, toilet training seven or eight children at a time, and so forth.
There is something truly odd to me about highly educated people who simultaneously believe that they have something better to do than employ their degree in singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" seventy times a day, and also that there should be a large supply of bright, educated people who choose to do just that. There are very special people in the world who genuinely long to spend the rest of their days caring for small children. They are very rare. Most people do it because they have to, or think they ought to, not because it's their first choice of lives. I'm not talking about caring for your own children--even though I have yet to meet anyone under the age of sixty who has uttered both these sentences to me:
"I really loved my job."
"I decided to stay home with the kids."
But nature prepares you for the difficulties of caring for your own child by flooding you with neurochemicals that make you fiercely interested in its life. Very few people experience that same feeling for any random group of very small children. Childcare is extremely tedious. Bright, educated people rarely voluntarily seek tedious work. This is why even most people with degrees in early childhood care do not actually provide day-to-day childcare. You will have to spend a phenomenal amount of money on salaries to attract these high-quality workers you believe your children should have--indeed, in most cases, much more than either mother or father makes.
I love children, and wouldn't mind having some of my own, circumstances permitting. But the very mothers flooding my comments with angry dissertations on the appalling state of American childcare also dwell quite lovingly on all of the insane tedium of doing nothing but provide it to their own children. There is a pretty deep disconnect here.
* Since society is not going to magically alter overnight, I assume basically all these new workers will be women.
Update I should say I know a few people who chose to leave jobs they loved: the parents of special needs children. But as they certainly know, caring for a single very needy child is a full time job that commands an enormous wage premium, and arguably cannot be purchased at any price.
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