Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / January 16, 1998 / 18 Tevet, 5758
Child care and the feminist agenda
Last week, a Virginia woman went to fetch her 18-month-old daughter from a day-care center and found the doors locked and the place dark. After a few frantic calls to determine if someone else had picked up the baby, the mother heard the sound of cries. She next did what any parent would do -- she broke a window, crawled inside and rescued her hysterical child. The baby had simply been overlooked.
Thanks to President Clinton, more Americans will now have access to such affordable, quality care. Because if he has his way, the federal government will skew the economic incentives to make sure that more and more parents put their children in paid child-care centers.
The proposal is founded upon the dual premise that working people need more child-care options and that child care is not harmful to children.
Is there a need for more paid child-care centers? A few facts: According to an HHS survey, 96 percent of parents are satisfied with their child-care arrangements. Ninety percent say they would be willing to pay more for child care. Seventy percent of preschool children are cared for by their parents or relatives. Forty percent of women with children ages 6 and under do not work. Of the mothers with preschool children who do work, half make child-care arrangements that do not require cash payments.
At commercial child-care centers, the average vacancy rate across the country is 12 percent. The average weekly expenditure on child care by those below the poverty line is $50. For those above the poverty line, it is $76.
There is simply no way to argue, based on the facts, that child care is out of reach for ordinary Americans. Whether the government ought to be making it easier for parents to send their children to strangers from the earliest months of their lives is another matter.
The Clinton initiative, though advertised as being "for the children," is really just another federal endorsement of the feminist agenda. If it passed, it would be a crucial endorsement because it would go further than the tax law already does in disfavoring those families who choose to have one parent, usually the mother, raise the children full time.
Poor, single mothers have no choice but to farm out their children during the day while they struggle to make a living. But if we make their lives easier, are we not encouraging a choice that we know to be disadvantageous? Is the state to be the daddy?
As for mothers who are not poor, most make choices for care that do not involve the kind of centers the Clintons would subsidize. What we know about children suggests that we should be doing everything possible to enable women to be full-time mothers (at least when their children are babies and toddlers) rather than handing a day-care center a check and pushing mom out the door with her briefcase.
If the individual tax exemption had kept pace with inflation since the 1950s, it would now be worth about $7,000 per child. Taxes are one reason couples feel pressure for a second income. If taxes were lower and exemptions were higher, more families would be able to afford to have one parent stay at home. That's the alternative to keeping taxes high so that Bill and Hillary can decide what is quality care.
But the whole concept of chirpy, well-lit child centers with Ph.Ds changing diapers and playing Mozart is a fantasy that only liberals could believe in. No amount of money the government could possibly collect would be enough to fund such centers around the country. And even if it were financially feasible, it would probably be an emotional failure. Yes, infants and toddlers need intellectual stimulation. But the most important thing for young children is the consistent, loving attention of at least one person who would walk through fire for them. The early research on child care suggests that children raised by non-parents are more aggressive, less sociable and less firmly attached to their parents than children raised at home.
The person who is doing the most for children and the country at large is the mother who is foregoing an income to raise her own children. President Clinton wants to make her more scarce.
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