The Cost of Raising a Child

In an interview with The Washington Post in 2012, former Massachusetts First Lady Ann Romney addressed her role as a stay-at-home mom by describing the process of raising a child as “the hardest job there is.” Ann Romney’s testimony is not a unique one–millions of Americans every day take  on the challenges of raising their children at a time of skyrocketing childcare costs.

According to The Care Report from New America and Care.com, the average cost of full time care in childcare centres for American families with children ages 0-4 is a staggering $9,589 per year, higher than the average in-state tuition for public universities. This cost barrier has prevented millions of children ages 3-4 from enrolling in pre-primary education programs through full time childcare centres or other facilities. In 2017, only 68% of four year olds and 40% of three year olds were enrolled in pre-primary education programs, ranking the US in the bottom tier of the OECD nations with regards to enrollment in early childhood development programs.

With increasing consensus on both sides of the aisle regarding the importance of universal and affordable early childhood education, the difficulty of raising and caring for children by American parents can no longer be ignored. The barriers that prevent parents and children from reaching their full potential must be eliminated, allowing every child to have access to universal, high-quality early childhood education regardless of race, income, or location. This means that the United States should begin to adopt policies that would subsidise childcare for middle to lower income families to ensure affordability.

Childhood Fund

The first step in guaranteeing universal early childhood education to all families lies in guaranteeing affordability of childcare services for middle and lower income class families. This would not only lift the financial burden of childcare off the backs of working class parents, but would also offer parents the choice to send their children to reputable childcare facilities to ensure their success. Some policy suggestions for lawmakers that would guarantee childcare affordability for parents include:

  • Establishing a brand new Childhood Fund through the consolidation of many existing federal childcare grant and subsidy programs which would be responsible for the following childcare initiatives.
    • Providing universal Childhood Subsidies to every American family, making childcare for children ages 0-6 free for families with household incomes below $50,000 while significantly capping costs of childcare for remaining American families according to the following scale, with household incomes adjusted annually to cost of living:
Household Income Cap of Child Care Costs (% of income)
$50,000-$60,000 2%
$60,000-$75,000 3%
$75,000-$90,000 4%
$90,000-$100,000 5%
$100,000-$125,000 6%
$125,000+ 7%

This would ensure that no American family pays more than 7% of income on childcare costs, leaving more money in the pockets of parents to go towards housing, food, school supplies, and higher education.

    • Administering a newly established Childhood Fund Business Grant which would provide funding to businesses for the purpose of building federally approved on-site childcare facilities and/or establishing a network of approved on-site childcare providers for their employees. The percentage of funding the grant would provide businesses would be determined based on the following scale:
Business Size Funding for On Site Child Care (% of cost)
100 employees or less 100%
100-200 employees 90%
200-300 employees 75%
300-400 employees 70%
400-500 employees 60%
500 employees + 50%
    • Administering a newly established Childhood Fund Student Care Grant which would provide 100% funding towards building a network of federally approved on-site childcare facilities and/or a network of approved on-site childcare providers for student parents at every public institution and university as well as private institutions and universities approved jointly by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.
    • Administering a newly established Childhood Fund Community Investment Grant which would provide an annual investment of $2 billion to underserved communities towards training and hiring childcare providers.

Childhood Program

The next step in guaranteeing universal early childhood education to working families lies in guaranteeing universal access to a network of high quality and affordable childcare providers in safe and comfortable learning environments. This would ensure that every American family, regardless of income or the state they live in, would be able to send their children to federally approved early development centres with high quality providers to give their children a crucial head start in their education. Some policy suggestions I have for lawmakers that would guarantee universal access to high quality childcare providers include:

  • Establishing a new Childhood Program through the Department of Health and Human Services which would be responsible for the following:
    • Setting up and funding a network of locally administered childcare facilities in the forms of Early Learning Pre-K Centres, Child Care and Development Centres, After School Care Centres, Summer Care Centres, and Family Care Centres through a mandatory federal investment in partnership with states, local communities, local school districts, and local businesses. Facilities part of the Childhood Program network would be required to operate under the following guidelines:
      • Hire faculty members with Bachelor’s Degrees and guarantee a $20 wage floor and Medicare coverage to every provider hired through the Childhood Program.
      • Provide expanded childcare services during evening hours to accommodate parents with non-traditional schedules.
      • Hire at least one licensed child psychiatrist to monitor the emotional and social wellbeing of every child enrolled.
      • Provide universal access to free and healthy meals as determined by United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
      • Provide universal access to free and safe public transportation to enrolled students through partnerships with local subways/metros, buses, and school buses.
      • Establish and provide resources, including faculty, for immigrant students and students for whom English is not a native language.
      • Provide at least 690 annual hours of classroom operations to enrolled students to stimulate knowledge intake and critical thinking skills..
      • Provide at least 690 annual hours of play time to enrolled students to stimulate social, emotional, and linguistic skills.
      • Provide at least 100 annual hours of rehabilitation towards students who have previously experienced emotional or physical trauma in cases of domestic violence, child abuse, rape or other events.
    • Setting up and funding a network of licensed local home care providers for families wishing to have access to childcare within the home as opposed to at a private or public childcare centre or facility. Providers hired through the home care network of the Childhood Program would be guaranteed a wage floor of $20 and Medicare coverage as part of their employment.
    • Partnering with states to set up state based exchanges as part of the Childhood Program network, similar to the health care exchanges of the Affordable Care Act, where families would be able to hire a licensed local home care provider through the Childhood Program home care network, or enroll their children in certified Early Learning Pre-K Centres, Child Care and Development Centres, After School Care Centres, Summer Care Centres, and/or Family Care Centres.
    • Guaranteeing free enrollment for families participating in the Childhood Program whom meet the following criteria:
      • Families with household incomes below $75,000
      • U.S. Military families.
      • Federal and State employees (not including politicians)
      • Single parent families.
      • Families with student parents.

Newborn Program

The third step in guaranteeing universal early childhood education to working families lies in guaranteeing paid family leave for working mothers and fathers. This would ensure that every parent of newborns in the United States would be guaranteed time to care for their infants without being deprived of the crucial income which supports their family. Some policy suggestions I have for lawmakers that would guarantee paid parental leave to every parent in the United States include:

  • Establish the new federal Newborn Program through the Department of Health and Human Services which would be responsible for the following:
    • Guaranteeing up to a combined total of eight months of paid parental and medical leave for military parents, a combined total of six months for working co-parents, or single parents of newborn or adopted children in the United States. The percentage of pay which parents would receive while on leave would be determined based on the following scale, with annual incomes adjusted annually to cost of living::
Annual Income Pay on Leave

(% of income)

(Military Parents)

Pay on Leave

(% of income)

(Working Parents)

Pay on Leave

(% of income)

(Single Parents)

$0-$30,000 100% 100% 100%
$30,000-$50,000 100% 85% 100%
$50,000-$75,000 85% 75% 85%
$75,000-$100,000 70% 60% 70%
$100,000+ 60% 50% 60%

Monthly payment for parents would be capped at $5,500, adjusted annually to cost of living, to make sure that the benefits of the Newborn Program reach the middle and working class the most.

A High Quality Childhood for Every Child

By implementing the policies outlined in this proposal, lawmakers would be giving every parent in the United States access to childcare services that are affordable and high quality, while allocating time for each parent to spend time with their newborn and adopted children.

The proposed reforms outlined in this paper are a result of reviewing and synthesising a variety of universal childcare and paid family leave proposals and compiling various ideas from lawmakers in Congress, economists, as well as from think tanks that represent various ideological leanings. Some of the legislation that inspired the proposals outlined in this blog include:

  • A Budget for a Better America, presented by President Donald Trump (R) for the Fiscal Year 2020.
  • Cassidy-Sinema Parental Leave Plan, introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D). 
  • Child Care for Working Families Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D).   
  • Children’s Agenda, presented by Kamala Harris for the People.
  • Earned Income Leave Benefit, developed by the American Action Forum.   
  • FAMILY Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D).
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave, presented by Hillary for America.
  • Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D).

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