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In Washington, D.C., daycare for infants and children younger than preschool-age costs $23,000 per child on average, only $2,000 less than the countrywide average for out-of-state college tuition. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in her latest State of the District address, said high childcare costs are a major factor driving people out of the city.
Prices upwards of $2,000 per month can be a tough prospect even for relatively well-off parents. For poorer parents, these costs are out of the question, and government assistance in the form of vouchers and other programs often isn’t enough to make up the gap between what they can afford and what it takes to have any child-care options at all. Take D.C.’s child-care workers themselves. With their wages—roughly $10 to $15 per hour—they could likely never afford to have a kid in child care.
The committee, Kelly told me, “was not charged with exploring deeply” the real-world implications, and she said specifically the report “doesn't consider the labor market and cost.”
“From child-development science,” she said, “all of this is well-founded. But [the new regulations] put that concept into this space where the policy decisions and the implementation of those decisions, and all of the potential ramifications and pros and cons and tradeoffs, are really going to have to be grappled with. They don't just follow the logic of the science.”
If the regulations exacerbate the problem of child-care access by making it harder to staff child-care centers and thus raising costs, they will worsen another structural injustice, namely the burden care places in time and money on American parents, with moms being much more likely than dads to take the hit. And in countries where finding and funding child care is easier on parents, women’s labor-force participation goes up, an economic as well as a social good. All of which speaks to why regulating the industry is not only, and not primarily, a scientific issue about children’s cognition, but rather a social and economic one. The quality of child care, after all, only matters if children—and parents—have access to it.