Biden Admin Mary C. King

Affordable Child Care Is the Boost Our Economy Needs

High quality child care helps parents earn more now, kids earn more later, and keeps entire communities afloat.
[silvioassuncao / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

By Mary C. King | OtherWords

Child care is one of the biggest expenses many families face — in much of the country, it can run higher than college tuition. Could a national child care program ease that burden?

We’ve come close before. During World War II, the federal government provided child care around the clock to enable more women to work in the war industries. In 1971, we nearly got a national child care program until President Richard Nixon vetoed legislation that had strong bipartisan support.

Now, with Senator Joe Manchin stalling President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, we could be on the brink of another disappointment. Or, if the bill can be rescued, our country may get another opportunity to make a historic investment in our future.

Among many other things, the Build Back Better Act would cap child care payments for working families at no more than 7 percent of their income — while raising wages for child care workers.

The U.S. is far behind other affluent — and even less affluent — nations, in the support it provides families with children. In 2017, the U.S. was 37th of the 38 OECD countries in its spending on family benefits including child care, at less than two-thirds of one percent of GDP.

Only Turkey trailed us. The United Kingdom, a lot like us in many ways, spends more than five times as much as the United States.

Yet the economic case for investing in early childhood education and care is strong. Universal preschool is a two-generation anti-poverty strategy that also benefits the middle class. Decades of research find that it reduces inequality by gender, race, ethnicity and income. Children from families with lower incomes gain the most, but all children make gains.

As it is now, young children have the highest poverty rates of any age group in this country — and the cost of child care helps explain why.

Child care is simply so expensive that many parents, especially mothers, cannot afford to work, which permanently lowers their lifetime incomes. Single mothers, who are raising almost a quarter of U.S. children, are particularly vulnerable.

Women’s ability to work in the U.S. is falling behind other countries — including Germany, Canada, and Japan — due to our weak family policies. But we don’t have to look far to find successful examples of public investments in child care. Washington, D.C.’s universal preschool program has increased the labor force participation of mothers by 10 percentage points, raising family incomes.

Care like this isn’t just good for parents. High quality preschool eases the transition to kindergarten and raises high school graduation rates, college attendance, and incomes. Down the line, it also reduces unemployment, crime, incarceration and other social ills.

Even families without kids benefit. The higher the education rate in a locality, the higher the wages are for everyone, regardless of their education, because companies can be more productive with a skilled labor force.

Finally, part of ensuring quality child care means paying child care workers salaries comparable to elementary school teachers. Without decent wages to support their families, these jobs see very high turnover — which limits the experience and relationships that are critical to quality care.

Federal investment in early childhood and care is long overdue. It’s the best economic development project we could undertake, with significant gains to the community as a whole, as well as to children, their families, and preschool workers.

The rest of the wealthy world has far lower rates of child poverty, a critical predictor of future marginalization, than we do — largely because they invest much more in their children. Let’s not waste another 50 years before investing in our children, our families, and our future.

Mary C. King

Mary C. King

Mary C. King is a Professor of Economics Emerita at Portland State University. This op-ed was adapted from and distributed by


  1. Yeah, pay someone else to raise your kids.
    And you can get poor people to babysit for low wages too.
    Great Plan.

  2. Ms King,

    Thank you for the article, with which I completely agree. You correctly point out that the policies of this Country which deny child care and other vital components of a missing social safety net produce a bad result for the people. That is in fact the intended result of the cruel policies entailed by neoliberalism. The elites who make policy in this Country (generally referred to as the 1% and referred to me as the “thieves”) want to keep the people in a state of precarity, as one of their leading spokesmen, Alan Greenspan, openly (but probably not intentionally) admitted. There is more than adequate money and resources to provide an excellent standard of living for everyone in the U.S. However, that is not the goal of the thieves, who make policy and own and operate both political parties for their own benefit. The system is totally corrupt. The interests of the people count for nothing. We are being looted at every turn.

  3. earn more….americans are anti-family…especially “progressives”
    “as one digs deeper into the national character of Americans one sees they have sought the value of everything in this world according to the answer to a single question: how much money will it bring in?” tocqueville
    “in america equality means money”. Christopher Lasch
    Hofstadter correctly described US academics as “technicians that serve power with a thin understanding of everything”

    1. @alexandr herzen
      de Tocqueville also said that he was shocked by how much of a business-run society the U.S. was after visiting here. People in the U.S. worship money far more than people elsewhere, which is totally expected for a country that was based on freedom to make a lot of money.

      1. @Jim+Thomas
        Even more fundamentally than that, it’s based on destroying the Earth and all life here.

  4. Humans fit the medical definition of being a cancerous tumor on the Earth, and this post is a perfect example of that FACT (that’s right, this is a fact, not my opinion). Advocacy of ever more growth of population and consumption is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what we should be doing. This is not to say that children already born and their families should not be taken care of, but no government should be encouraging people to have kids with economic or any other incentives. Give these benefits to people who limit their families to one child and to people who already have children, but to no one else. A much better plan would be large fines for anyone who produces more than two children. Humans are already grossly overpopulated ecologically, and we need to greatly reduce our population, not to constantly increase it like a cancer.

    What a disgustingly anthropocentric column! Absolute lack of consideration, caring, or empathy for the Earth or any other life on it. This attitude is the root of all environmental and ecological problems on Earth, and must be reversed.

  5. Absolutely, integrate the systems to fight the oppressors, the eugenists, all those people who yammer on about how we have to cut population to save the earth.

    Child care is vital, and the capitalist system demands two parents to work, and many families are single (mother) parent families where survival is having the mother work. End the subsidies for the tech-pharma-IT-banking-war-real estate machine, and the Military Industrial Complex. Health care in all communities, and clinics, dental clinics, vision. Reshape it all — and push the population bombers to the side.

    How can we have a simple article on child care and the negatives around the exploitation of child care and adult care and DD care workers, and hoped-for legistation and support for public subsidized childcare precipitate the hate, calling this writer’s wirj disgusting?

    The ugly commens sections. Man.

    We need much more in our culture than just child care. Here, to be published elsewhere — reaction to yet another documentary:

    Squat in the empty houses, and buildings. Get to permaculture and ag centered communities. Get people health, smart, literate, growing, cooking and canning food. Rewild spaces, for sure, and, then, hmm, Soylent Green are protein bars for the rich, from their offspring and Eichmann’s?

    John Steppling —

    The new marketing of Eugenics has taken the form of *population fear*. Its green eugenics. There is a real need today to ideologically deconstruct the genuine environmental crisis from the rising justification in liberal circles for mass control. The substitution of some global or planetary imagery (new age mother earth stuff) for what is really still a Western caste system is highly pernicious. Defending the status quo is defending the themes of social management based on the terms of the white Empire.

    The disenchantment of society is part of the fall out from this loss of memory skills, a shrinkage of inner life altogether, and the atrophy of mimetic capability. The distancing, or really prohibition of Nature. The enclosure of life into small cubicles of digital unreality. There are no commons, only non spaces. There is little remaining access to land and water and just space. The experience of empty space is a crucial aspect of aesthetics. And by extension of culture. The U.S. project is one of curtailing culture. Culture is Hollywood’s supine submission to militarism and corporate ideology. Culture is the 4th grade level speech, both in content and execution, of Chelsea Clinton at the end of the convention. The awkward fixed smiles of the liberal followers displayed nothing so much as an inner numbness. The theatre of the mind that Cicero knew, and Kafka and Bruno and Shakespeare, that Dante knew and which drove the buildings of much early modernist architecture — from Barragan to Wang Shu today — is now an architecture of amnesia. The kitsch violence of Hadid’s non spaces. In culture today movement is directionless because you cant have directions to nowhere. The supporters of this system are suffering the cost of such massive forgetting and denial. If you bomb children in Gaza and it fails to register then you have lost something of what it means to be human. You are likely unable to then know yourself in any functional way. I am sure there will be a film soon with a Zombie protagonist (well, there is in a sense with iZombie) because that is who manufactures this junk. Zombies. And they reproduce what they know of themselves. Zombies have moved from metaphors for the dangerous masses to cute spunky bloodsuckers integrated seamlessly into the system. That the girl zombie of iZombie works for law enforcement is hardly an accident.


    There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution”.

    – Aldous Huxley, The Ultimate Revolution

    Ending Militarism. Militarism in all its forms, from the prison-industrial complex to wars of occupation, is one of the most powerful obstacles to the achievement of reproductive, environmental and climate justice. Ending militarism is a point where our struggles can and should converge, where there are multiple overlaps. The list is long: Military toxins damage the environment and harm reproductive health. Militarism increases violence against women, racism and anti-immigration activities. Militarism robs resources from other social and environmental needs. War destroys ecosystems, livelihoods, and health and sanitation infrastructure. It is the biggest threatof all to sustainable social reproduction.

    – Betsy Hartmann and Elizabeth Barajas-Román, The Population Bomb is Back with a Global Warming Twist

    And another watershed in the new scientific racism was William Vogt’s The Road to Survival. Vogt was openly disdainful of non-white races and enthusiastically suggested policies of mass sterilization and that any aid given to developing countries should be contingent upon forced contraception. In fact he, like Mencken, advocated paying the poor and those with prison records to be sterilized. One of Vogt’s most admiring readers was Paul Ehrlich, then a student at the University of Pennsylvania. The new drive for sterilization, for population control, was funded in large measure by Hugh Moore. He also, outside of an organizational framework, ran ads in major papers advocating for reduced population. As Chase writes…

    “Under such organizational banners as the Hugh Moore Fund and the Campaign to Check the Population Explosion, the Moore crusade for some years took one- and two-page advertisements in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Star, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s, Saturday Review, and Time. { } A true disciple of Vogt’s, Moore looked to sexual sterilization as the ultimate solution to population problems that could not be resolved by less traumatic methods. When Moore took over the presidency of the nation’s leading sterilization society in 1964, Lader writes, the salesman-showman of population control insisted that it change its name from the prissy Human Betterment Association (née Birthright, Inc.) to the more meaningful Association for Voluntary Sterilization, Inc. Things began to happen in a big way. Moore “raised money to move the office to a midtown New York suite just off Fifth Avenue, and employed an experienced executive director and staff.”


    Moore blamed new babies, unchecked copulation, for the rise in pollution from the automobile, then undergoing a giant spike in use and ownership. He carefully chose not to blame policies that nixed mass transit for urban centers, or plans for any alternative to gasoline driven travel. The popularity of Moore’s campaigns made its way to the inner circle of the Kennedy presidency, and later that of Johnson. And most significantly this neo-Malthusian sensibility (by way of Burch and Vogt) made its way to University campuses. And Paul Ehrlich, then a professor at Stanford, wrote The Population Bomb (1968). And it seemed just scientific enough, but still accessible, and it boiled down very complicated and dense political analysis into one phrase, borrowed from the Pogo comic strip…We have met the enemy and he is us. And it became the catch phrase for a movement. The enemy is us, the people. Not corporations or class exploitation, or industry or war. No, just people.

    Nixon even joined in, participating in Earth Day 1970, a mere few days before the invasion of Cambodia (and during his continued brutal bombing campaign of that same country). Nixon, who called anti war protesters “bums”, and this all only weeks before the murder of four students at Kent State by the National Guard. The new Malthusian environmentalists (along with the World Health Organization) were embracing a simple construct that argued *people pollute, nothing else*. Just people, nothing more and nothing less. They were careful in their marketing to avoid the taint of the older eugenics connections, however.


    “Underlying the close working relationship between America and Germany was the extensive financial support of American foundations for the establishment of eugenic research in Germany. The main support was the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. It financed the research of German racial hygienist Agnes Bluhm on heredity and alcoholism as early as 1920. Following a European tour by a Rockefeller official in December 1926, the Foundation began supporting other German eugenicists, including Herman Poll, Alfred Gorjahn, and Hans Nachtsheim. The Rockefeller Foundation played the central role in establishing and sponsoring major eugenic institutes in Germany, including the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, eugenics, and Human Heredity.”

    – Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection

    “Like the original Law of Population of Malthus, the Gobineau Cult of the Nordic, and the eugenic myth of the Decline of American Intelligence, the simplistic dogmas of the new People Pollute movement addressed themselves to chimeras rather than realities. They also helped hide the real causes and biosocial effects of environmental degradation from many educated but scientifically naïve Americans. Finally, in the classic traditions of scientific racism, the snappy slogans of Zero Population Growth and other wings of the People Pollute movement succeeded in pinning the blame for environmental degradation on the backs of its primary victims-—the poor…”

    – Allan Chase (ibid)

    Ian Angus, the sanest voice on this topic I think….wrote several years back (Return of the Population Bombers, Climate & Capitalism, July 2012)…

    “Populationist ideas are gaining traction in the environmental movement. A growing number of sincere activists are once again buying into the idea that overpopulation is destroying the earth, and that what’s needed is a radical reduction in birth rates.

    Most populationists say they want voluntary birth control programs, but a growing number are calling for compulsory measures. In his best-selling book The World Without Us, liberal journalist Alan Weisman says the only way to save the Earth is to “Limit every human female on Earth capable of bearing children to one.”

    Another prominent liberal writer, Chris Hedges, writes, “All efforts to staunch the effects of climate change are not going to work if we do not practice vigorous population control.”

    In the recent book Deep Green Resistance, Derrick Jensen and his co-writers argue for direct action by small groups, aimed at destroying industry and agriculture and reducing the world’s human population by 90% or more.

    And the famous British naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s tells us that “All environmental problems become harder, and ultimately impossible, to solve with ever more people.”

    Attenborough is a patron of Optimum Population Trust, also known as Population Matters, an influential British group that uses environmental arguments to lobby for stopping immigration.”

    This reasoning is so simplistic, so duplicitous and inane that one is hard pressed to know how to answer it. I mean population is not this thing, like water filling a tub. Thats first off. Second, fertility is dropping drastically and sperm counts for men, in the advanced nations of the West, is in free fall. Bookchin noted, perceptively, that there has been a shift in tone from the traditional Ehrlich era neo-Malthusians, to a new age Voodoo ecology in which the writing is acutely metaphorical…man as a cancer on the planet…or, *Gaia* etc. And this is a perceptive observation. My experience with trying to debate the subject of *overpopulation* {sic} is that I am met with a nearly religious or quasi mystical tone, one that Bookchin labled *eco theism*. And this is worth pondering. One of the reasons Zombie films (and all post apocalyptic narratives, really) are so popular and durable is that the audience WANTS the destruction of EVERYTHING. They harbor fantasy stories of starting over. Reconstruction dramas set in a sci fi style code — though tellingly none of them seem to ever seriously deal with sanitation. And clean water seems amazingly easy to find in these films and novels.

    “The road to survival, therefore, does not lie in the neo-Malthusian prescriptions to eliminate surplus people, nor in birth control, but in the effort to make everybody on the face of the earth productive. Hunger and misery are not caused by the presence of too many people in the world, but rather by having few to produce and many to feed. The neo-Malthusian doctrine of a dehumanized economy, which preaches that the weak and the sick should be left to die, which would help the starving to die more quickly, and which even goes to the extreme of suggesting that medical and sanitary resources should not be made available to the more miserable populations – such policies merely reflect the mean and egotistical sentiments of people living well, terrified by the disquieting presence of those who are living badly.”

    – Josue de Castro, The Geography of Hunger

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