The False Prophets of the Childcare Revolution – By Elliot Haspel (New Republic) / Feb 20 2020
Business leaders and corporate cheerleaders talk a good game about the importance of quality early care while fleecing working families.
Business groups and executive types love to talk about the importance of childcare. A 2019 report from the Council for a Strong America’s ReadyNation initiative, a bipartisan coalition of over 2,000 executives, was bluntly titled “Want to Grow the Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis.” Similarly, a 2018 Wall Street Journal article, “Why Businesses Are Pushing for Better Child Care in America,” cited Louisiana business leaders who had written, “One of the fixes to our labor shortage is as obvious as the fact that the snow is frozen: Make it easier for parents to get quality, affordable child care.” There are splashy White House summits and major employers like Target offering employees childcare benefits.
You could call it a positive development—meaningful access to childcare is wildly important, after all. The problem is that these business leaders are talking out of both sides of their mouths. By pushing for deeper and deeper cuts to corporate taxation and taking advantage of every available tax loophole, corporations are further starving a system that is not working for parents, childcare practitioners, or children. The harm here is obvious: With corporate taxes bottomed out, there’s not only less public money overall, but the need arises for additional sales or income tax, costs that are largely borne by the same struggling workers who already can’t find or afford quality early care. It allows the richest people in the country to pass the check to middle- and low-income families.
Still, it’s easy to understand why corporations are suddenly focusing on this issue. Even if the obvious human toll of the crisis has proved to be less than persuasive to the executive class, there is now sizable data on how a lack of reliable, affordable, high-quality childcare hurts employee recruitment, retention, and productivity—and keeps many potential workers out of the labor force altogether—which is a particular problem in a tight labor market. ReadyNation estimates the consequences cost American businesses nearly $13 billion a year just among parents of children aged three or younger. And while it may feel slightly dystopian to regard children as the next generation of workers, the crisis simultaneously impacts future labor markets because of how much, we now know, early experiences shape later educational outcomes.
Which is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation released, in 2017, a report called “Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-Quality Childcare.” The report stated plainly: “While enabling parents of young children to enter and remain in the workforce, childcare is simultaneously laying the human capital foundation—whether well or poorly—for much of our nation’s future workforce.”
Yet nowhere in the aforementioned reports—or any other industry report—is a suggestion that business help pick up the tab, through taxation, for services it acknowledges directly impacts its profits. There are certainly laudable recommendations in these documents (for instance, offering business expertise to local childcare providers), and it’s undeniable that vocal business support has made it easier for lawmakers to pass modest early childhood funding increases. In the big picture, though, corporate executives and their lobbyists are more than happy to advocate for cuts to their already low tax rates, further squeezing tight state budgets and taking away money that could otherwise be used for birth-to-five early care and education.
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