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Bringing Up Baby: U.S. Gets ‘F’ Beside Mexico

By July 7, 2021February 22nd, 2024General

Among the world’s 35 most developed nations, Iceland gets an A+ for best places on earth to raise a child. Only Mexico and the U.S. get F’s, according to hard data compiled by CNN last July from 30 international sources contributing to a global Raising a Family Index.

“We Americans like to think ‘We’re No. 1… as a place for families,’ but we ranked behind Bulgaria. Behind Chile.”

– Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, June 5, 2021

American Families Plan (AFP) is part of President Biden’s proposed infrastructure extension of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) passed in March.

The $1.8 trillion AFP, still in “blueprint,” includes $225 billion for a national, high-caliber universal child care program with better training and wages for out-of-family caregivers—93% of them women who are primarily Black, Asian and Latinx. It would also invest $200 billion in free universal pre-K.

Both Sides

The AFP has a passionate fan club. It also has received scrutiny.

Subjectively, AFP’s merit hinges on debate between stay-at-home care (familism) vs. non-family. In the latter orientation, all capable candidates must work outside the home, sharing rearing and wages with presumably reliable surrogates. Admittedly, Americans hold many perspectives on the topic: Critics believe AFP ignores this diversity, championing center care over family core.

AFP proponents believe early-socialized and -educated children are far more likely to succeed in higher grades, as well as later in personal and professional life. New research from Columbia University asserts that a universal child care system providing affordable, dependable care from birth to age 13 would bring roughly 500,000 out-of-work employees back into the workforce, dramatically increasing lifetime earnings and security for women across the country.

“Inequality starts at birth and the impact lasts a lifetime. A child’s brain develops faster from birth to age 5 than at any other time. Change the first 5 years and you change everything.” – Start Early. Children who experience quality early learning and care programs are 25% more likely to graduate high school, four times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher, more likely to earn up to 25% higher wages as an adult and, arguably, less likely to commit a crime or be arrested.

Detractors, on the other hand, say no education equals the bond between a three-year-old and its mother. They view AFP as too far left, approaching socialism or the “collective child” mindset of Israel’s kibbutz. They also see dollar signs and question whether affluent U.S. citizens, wealthiest achievers of the American Dream, will be hardest hit with tax hikes to carry those less achieved.

Objectively, merit falls roundly on whether AFP will profit our economy vis-a-vis the massive employment shift predicted for women and minorities. And, if the gamble is a go, how will we pay for it? Supporters believe universal child care will pay for itself in 15 years by increasing GDP (gross domestic product) $550 billion annually, a total of $8.25 trillion.

Okay. But Is Child Care Really Infrastructure?”

YES. Society expects people to reproduce and work long hours to survive. Infrastructure allows society to function. Hypothetically, if American women participated in the labor force at rates of women in countries like Iceland[1] where public child care is more robust, instead of staying at home, the U.S. economy would expand, and material inequities would begin to correct.

Per The New York Times, eight million American children (one in eight) live with a parent who has a substance abuse problem. Millions more live in households with domestic violence. Others are latchkey kids who look after younger siblings because parents are working, and day care is unaffordable.

Families desperately need help. In other countries, they get it. In the United States, they get hollow spiels about its importance. This could change everything.

[1] As of 2018, 88% of Icelandic working-age women were employed, 65% of university students were female and 41% of parliament members were women.