Among its many milestones, the 2016 U.S. presidential race marked the first time both the Democratic and Republican nominees released their child-care and paid-leave plans prior to the election. While campaigning, Donald Trump proposed a dependent-care savings account and a small earned-income tax credit for middle-class families. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, called for direct government investment in early childhood education—including universal pre-k for 4-year-olds—and tax relief for working families’ child care.
Both child-care plans were conservative by international standards. When it comes to early childhood education and care, countries like Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, and Sweden spend more than $9,000 per child under the age of 6 each year.
But there’s reason to believe that this kind of spending doesn’t always pay off. In 2015, a National Bureau of Economic Research working study studied Quebec’s universal day-care program and discovered significant negative behavioral and emotional effects among young children who received care. The program, known as the Quebec Family Policy, was created in 1997 with the aim of providing child care for just $5 a day to all children under the age of 4 (this became $7 a day in 2004). Although it presented some significant upsides—namely, allowing more mothers with young children to participate in the labor force—the quality of care was noticeably lacking. Young children enrolled in the program often became more anxious or aggressive, and teenagers who were previously enrolled reported declines in health and overall life satisfaction.