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A Bad Idea That Refuses to Die


Four toddlers died in a fire when 22-year-old day care operator Jessica Tata left the children under her care unsupervised during a quick run to Target. This is just one story among many illustrating the desperate need for federally funded child care, or so argues Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic:

A 2007 survey by the National Institute of Child Health Development deemed the majority of operations to be “fair” or “poor”—only 10 percent provided high-quality care. Experts recommend a ratio of one caregiver for every three infants between six and 18 months, but just one-third of children are in settings that meet that standard. Depending on the state, some providers may need only minimal or no training in safety, health, or child development. And because child care is so poorly paid, it doesn’t attract the highly skilled.

Cohn notes that universal day care would actually be a positive long-term investment for the country:

James Heckman, the Nobel-winning economist, has calculated that, in the best early childhood programs, every dollar that society invests yields between $7 and $12 in benefits. When children grow up to become productive members of the workforce, they feed more money into the economy and pay more taxes. They also cost the state less—for trips to the E.R., special education, incarceration, unemployment benefits, and other expenses that have been linked to inadequate nurturing in the earliest years of life.

This all sounds very good, but the theory has been tested, and the results were mixed at best. In 2010 the Department of Health and Human Services issued a report on Head Start, a federal day care program for low-income children, and found that whatever positive influence it may have had on their social and cognitive development faded away once they entered elementary school.

Cohn is right to point out how expensive child care is, and how challenging being a single mother can be. But we are generally wary of solutions that call for extensive government funding for universal child care, especially if it leads to a system of state-run preschools. (Oklahoma has already taken some steps in this direction.) This is exactly what we don’t need. America already spends more per pupil than every other country on public schools while achieving only middling results. Why we would want to expand this failing system to cover younger children is beyond us.

[Nursing image courtesy of Ron and Joe /]

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  • Fat_Man

    Why is that there is no comprehension among some liberal policy advocates of the enormous gap between the programs we have in place and our ability to pay for them, or the implications of that gap for our ability to fund their hobby horses?

    • Corlyss Drinkard

      I’ve been wondering that about gun control for 20 years. Never seems to make even a dent in their sincere but limited grasp of public policy that increased legislation in that area will not improve anything. Look at the hysteria associated with the failure of their latest effort. No amount of explaining to them that the proposed provisions would not have prevented a single child’s death at Newtown impresses them at all. All they see is the Evil NRA, not the millions of licensed and law abiding gun owners behind the NRA. One would have more success talking to a brick wall.

  • Andrew Allison

    The suggestion that a single irresponsible caregiver is reason for the expenditure of more government money that we don’t have is about as rational as the AGW alarmist’s assertion that an individual weather event is “proof” positive.

  • Jim Luebke

    You know, one caregiver for three kids doesn’t mean much improvement in the efficiency of the overall economy, compared to moms just taking care of their own kids.

    If moms take care of their own kids, you’re also more likely to get above-average performers (about half the time, or should be). If raising kids is paid work, (government or otherwise) you have low-performers doing the bulk of the work, with high performers only available to the fraction of the population who can afford those sorts of salaries.

    The efficiency numbers just don’t lean towards this as being more than a marginal improvement in the economy, considering that if you have high performers raising the kids, they’re more likely to become high performers themselves.

  • John Burke

    Nature has created a hard to beat day care operator, aka a mother (or a father). The overwhelming majority — probably 90% — of children from low- to moderate-income families needing publicly financed day care are children of “single moms.” The solution to this and so many other purported problems is marriage.

    My maternal grandparents, born circa 1870, were dirt poor Irish in a craggy corner of the Dingle peninsula. Grandpa was an illiterate fisherman who spoke only Irish and a few English phrases. They married in 1891, had their first child late that year and their last (of 15 born) in 1916. None ever needed “day care,” most attended a two room crude schoolhouse, all as adults made their way to America, married and had children themselves. None ever divorced. None of the 28 grandchildren became a criminal and all were at least moderately successful by 20th century American standards.

    I don’t contend that every group in contemporary America can easily follow a similar path. However, I do contend that if grandma and grandpa had never married and grandma had borne children by three men, they would all have been totally screwed.

    • foobarista

      Add to that grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. How on Earth did humans get by for tens of thousands of years without unionized daycare providers?

  • Luke Lea

    “This is just one story among many illustrating the desperate need for federally funded child care. . .”

    Or for a six-hour day, which might be an even better idea. If you get my drift.

  • Corlyss Drinkard

    Couldn’t disagree more with the Big Government advocates at New Republic. Neither federal law nor federal money will stop the employment of stupid people either too young or too irresponsible to hold positions of trust.

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