The Sad State of Daycare in America

Today I heard a story on NPR’s Fresh Air about the state of child daycare in America.   Let’s just say it’s not very good. It was an interview with Jonathan Cohn who recently wrote a “The Hell of American Day Care” for The New Republic.  It was a story that had some details that rang too true for Danielle and I. One of the key points that Cohn makes is that daycare is very expensive – so expensive as to be a burden to those who need it the most, single parents.  That is a very, very true statement.  Danielle and I flip-flopped during the pregnancy about whether Scarlett would be going to daycare.  Around three months before she was due to be born, we decided to go with daycare so I set out to find all the daycare centers near our house that seemed reputable.I was quite surprised that it was hard to find one that was clean, provided stimulation for the kids, and wasn’t impossibly expensive . Eventually we found one that seemed good based on the tour. About a month before Scarlett was supposed to start, we went for a visit to meet the teachers. While talking with them, we realized that most of the kids were left alone and the workers weren’t washing their hands after changing the kids’ diapers. Disgusted, we decided to just take care of her at home.  The sad thing is that daycare at that place cost so much that we weren’t really losing any money with the loss of one income. That was what had made us so unsure of whether to go with daycare in the first place – the amount of money we’d still get to take home if she was in daycare was so small the only thing that kept us actually considering it was a fear of how expensive diapers and other baby products are.

I think part of what allowed the daycare situation to be so dire (one was so dirty I couldn’t wait to leave the facility) is that there are not enough day care centers for the amount of people that need daycare.  Of the three daycare centers I was interested in, none of them had any slots available for the baby when we needed it. And two of them weren’t available until about 3-4 months after we needed it. So parents are desperate for care and can’t even complain because there isn’t anywhere for them to take the kids.

There is a lot of home daycare available in Maryland, but we didn’t trust that. And the NPR story provides a good reason for our caution. It tells the story of a home daycare where a woman was taking care of six kids. She was cooking with oil and a fire started. She left the kids sleeping and went to Target. A fire started and four kids died. Sure, that’s a worst case scenario, but when you do home daycare there’s only one employee there. So if the lady had been home when the fire started, she probably wouldn’t have been able to get all of the kids out in time.  You can only carry so many kids at once.

The work thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. During World War II there was a need for women to be in the workplace. So the government set up day care centers for the women.  But after World War II they didn’t want to do anything that would encourage women to be outside the home.  Their place was at home and by not having daycare it was hoped they’d stay there.  In fact, under the original Welfare system, the whole point was to pay women to stay at home so they could stay there instead of having to work in order to earn enough to feed their kids.  And, while France has a lot of crappy things, (three strikes laws, bans on encryption, and French people) it has such awesome daycare and family leave that I actually considered trying to get an expat job so we could have those benefits. Why didn’t they feel that women should be at home like Americans? Well, other than not being founded by Protestants, they had two World Wars in which their country was steamrolled.  France lost incredible amounts of their male population.  Not only did they need women to work (no men to work), but they also needed to strongly encourage a higher birth rate.

And, lest you think I protest too much because I don’t know what I’m talking about – my mother owns two daycare center franchises.  She had one of the few good daycare centers, but it requires her working 14 hour days and that includes the fact that she has a director.  So I know it’s possible, but most owners don’t put that much work into their daycares. (I know, from having spoken to quite a few of them)  And there are some poor states, as the NPR article mentions, where state funding has helped to dramatically increase the scores of their students.

I hope that people will begin to realize that the best investment a country can make is in its own children. The better and smarter we are, the better we can be at developing new, awesome technology that will keep us ahead. And you shouldn’t stay away from daycare because it’ll “drive women out of the home”. In my experience, women will do what they need to do based on what their family needs.  You should allow people to make that decision, not be forced into it.

2 responses to “The Sad State of Daycare in America”

  1. I remember seeing news years back about Wisconsin subsidizing child care providers and it resulting in a bunch of fraud – mostly because it was so hard to verify where kids actually were and if parents actually had jobs.

    I’d never heard that not having daycare was a way to keep women in the home. But if women in WWII were getting jobs to help the war effort – it kinda makes sense that once that need had been fulfilled, the gov’t didn’t need to continue providing that service. In fact, right now, if people who didn’t need the extra income in a two income family withdrew from the workforce – how would that change the current job market? Anyway, you don’t address how affordable daycare would come into existence, so my automatic thought was gov’t. But I’m kinda thinking it could be employers. As an employer, if you want to keep good workers – offer them daycare so they don’t leave when they have a kid. And by they – I mostly mean women. But it could work like any other benefit where they just deduct a reasonable amount from your paycheck. That way non-parents can opt out of that benefit.

    • I’ll address this part first: “I’d never heard that not having daycare was a way to keep women in the home” All I know is that this is what this researched on NPR said. Generally speaking I’d be very inclined to trust that, but NPR has been fooled before – they aren’t perfect – they just have a better track record than most.

      As for the first paragraph and the rest of the second one. The way the author addressed it is that it is a government provided good in France. Just like our K-12th grade in America. If you want to privately take care of your kid then the government gives you the money back – so you don’t pay for it unless you use it. So I think that takes care of the objections to it. However, I could definitely see a role for a public-private partnership where some companies might provide, as extra incentive, a benefit to allow you to put your kid in the private school of daycare. (Much like we have with K-12th grade – public and private education, not employers directly contributing)

      In the end, if you believe in public schooling, then I think it’s not a big stretch to believe in public daycare. It’s just school for babies. That is especially true at daycares like the one my mom runs where even the baby rooms have lesson plans.