Working families don’t need universal child care

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Prior to the pandemic, women made up more of the labor force than men, earned more degrees than men, and held more than half of management occupations.

All this progress came to a halt when, in the spring of 2020, schools and child care centers across the country began to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without access to child care, many working families faced difficult decisions and uncertainty. As a result, 5.1 million mothers in the United States left the workforce. Today, 1.3 million still remain out of work.

While those on the Left have pounced on this as an opportunity to advocate for universal child care, a government-centered model that would make child care centers free or heavily subsidized, such a one-size-fits-all proposal is bound to make the situation for working mothers even more difficult.

American Compass reported that in 2021, having one parent work full time and the other stay at home was the most desired arrangement reported by lower-, working-, and middle-class families. Universal child care would be a fine solution for households in which parents want to work full time, but it is not the answer for families that want a more traditional household.

Instead, workplaces need to be incentivized to offer flexibility to younger families via remote or hybrid work. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, my husband was fortunate enough to keep his job and work remotely. As a stay-at-home mother, a full-time Ph.D. student, and a local elected official, I was majorly relieved to have my husband home working a flexible schedule so we could balance our son’s needs without having to rely on child care services.

In West Virginia, our access to day care or child care centers is limited. Many rural communities face this issue, and many traditional families like ours would much rather care for our children ourselves.

Our nation’s child care policies should respect the needs of traditional families. Direct payments or tax credits that can be used for either child care services or supplemental costs are a much better option that allows working families to choose how to best care for their child without solely relying on day cares.

One of the unforeseen benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it forced many companies to embrace remote work, something that can greatly benefit young families whose children are not yet school age.

A recent survey revealed that 64% of employees at top-tier companies, including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan, would prefer to work from home permanently rather than get a $30,000-a-year raise.

Ironically enough, the “pro-family” policy of universal child care will only lead to children spending less time with their actual families. Child care will never have a one-size-fits-all solution. All families are unique, and we need true “pro-family” policies that reflect that.

Children spending more time with their parents is a good thing. Strong families will lead to a stronger nation, and it is due time we begin investing in America’s families.

Clare Anne Ath currently serves as a county commissioner in Jefferson County, West Virginia. She is also a Ph.D. student at Liberty University, where she focuses her research on pro-family policies.

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