Saturday, May 01, 2021

All Power to the Oppressed Parents!

Hi folks, relief crew here! And happy International Labor Day! 

Children in New York City's universal pre-K program, abandoned by their selfish millionaire moms who'd rather be at a power lunch with their law partners. David Brooks begs you, don't let this happen to the rest of America! Via Day Care Council of New York.

Shorter David F. Brooks ("Power to the Parents!", New York Times 30 April 2021)"

We must allow parents to make their own decisions on building their families! I mean unless they make the wrong decisions, obviously we need to keep an eye on that.

This is such a great example of a particular manner of Republican argumentation, addressed to Biden's American Families Plan and its cruel and insidious attempt to force our nation's 3- and 4-year-olds into quality pre-kindergarten programs against their parents' desires.

That is—he begins with praise for the expanded child tax credit program of the American Rescue (to be extended out to 2025 under American Families), which gives parents $300 per month (for adjusted gross income of $150,000 for a couple filing jointly, less for higher incomes) per child under 5, $250 for kids 6 to 16, for the freedom it allows parents to decide what to do with the money

The role of government is to help people build the kind of family they prefer, not tell them what kind of family they should prefer. Government should be neutral about what kind of family is best. Joe Biden’s American Families Plan has one element that beautifully accomplishes this, by extending the child tax credit, or child allowance. If parents want to use the extra money from the credit to help pay for day care, they can. If they want to use it to reduce work hours time so they can spend more time at home, they can. 

Of course, the expanded child tax credit doesn't do anything like what Brooks says it does. Crappy unlicensed day care in Michigan will run you $600 a month, twice what you can get from the expanded child tax credit; care in a licensed facility with qualified teachers pushes it up to nearly $900. You'd still be paying $7,200 a year, which isn't considered affordable (7% of household income) unless your household income is $103,000. If you think of the money as a fungible substitute for work hours, for a part-time worker whose employer doesn't really care how many hours a week you work one way or the other, which is not in my experience most employers, it's 40 hours a month for a rock-bottom job at the federal minimum wage of $7.25, 20 hours a month at $15; how much extra time with the kids is that? I just want to point out that the expanded child tax credit, while a genuine reduction of real poverty and deep poverty, and even for middle class families a lovely way of relieving everyday budget stress around school clothes and utility bills and credit card bills and the like, and I'm totally for it, is not a helpful subsidy for day care or realistic substitute for part of a paid job.

There's no reason we should expect Brooks to understand this, his experience of life doesn't extend in that direction, but he ought to understand it's possible to find out. And if he really wants the child tax credit to do that job, he needs to let it be more like at least three times as much as it is, around $1000 a month, and he'd better not think he can make any compensating cuts in food assistance or medical care.

Meanwhile, he shakes his head in distress at the elements of the Biden program that will make it possible to choose day care:

But the Biden administration is not entirely neutral when it comes to family policy. When, during a conference call, I asked three administration officials Thursday about this, they mentioned two other social goals. First, getting people working. “We want parents to be in the work force, especially mothers,” said Susan Rice, head of the Domestic Policy Council. Second, the administration wants kids in classroom settings, to extend the public school system down two years. The administration is aggressively expanding child care subsidies and pre-K programs.

Actually, what? Is there a coercive element in there I'm not seeing? Is there a plan to require women to get out there into the wage-labor economy against their wishes, like the state-level efforts of Republicans to attach "work requirements" to SNAP benefits or Medicaid? Is there a proposal to make pre-K compulsory, like K-12 schooling?

Reader, there is not. There is a plan to enable parents to get into, or back into, the paid labor force if they so desire, particularly the 2 million women who dropped out during the pandemic, many because of difficulty obtaining child care, by subsidizing it for those who want it. 

The American Families Plan will provide direct support to families to ensure that low- and middle-income families spend no more than seven percent of their income on child care, and that the child care they access is of high-quality.

Perhaps he thinks Americans are so addicted to free stuff that they will feel driven to accept subsidized day care and pre-K even though they don't want it?

Another weird area of wrongness in Brooks's argument suggests he might. This is the appeal to research showing that most Americans believe it is better for a family to have one parent staying home 

For example, a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 59 percent of Americans believed children with two parents were better off if one parent stayed at home, but 39 percent thought children were just as well off if both parents worked.

and that the ones who don't believe it tend to be better off:

As research by scholars at the American Compass think tank has shown, people in the working class and to a lesser extent the middle class are more likely to prefer the “breadwinner” model, in which one parent stays home, when children are younger than 5. Families making more than $150,000 are more likely to admire the “dual earner” model, in which both parents work.

This turns into an outburst like that of J.D. Vance:

Although, you know,

Just saying. Or as Brooks puts it,

Finally, I worry about the class politics of all this. In that American Compass research, more-affluent families support day care expansion but working-class families overwhelmingly support direct subsidies. Thriving meritocrats may be eager to re-enjoy the satisfactions of full-time work, but in one 2018 survey only 28 percent of married mothers said working full time was ideal. Forty percent said working part time was ideal.

He's worried about the class politics! Let's just point out that more-affluent families really do have a choice, already: to have a parent stay home if she or he wants or spend the $30,000 it takes to keep a couple of toddlers in the Montessori center. The provision of subsidized day care and public pre-K has literally no effect on their choices at all, though I guess it would give them more opportunity to expose the little ones to plebeians and their interesting cultures. 

Working-class families, on the other hand, don't get a choice, and generally have to have both parents taking jobs whose satisfactions they may not enjoy at all, because they're shitty jobs, because they need the money. If Brooks really wants to give them that choice to "build their families" the way they prefer, I'm afraid they're going to have to up that child tax credit again, to somewhere around $2000 per month per kid.

It's pretty obvious that Brooks, and Vance, and the others, don't actually care about the preferences of the working-class family at all, or they'd give it at least a tiny bit of thought. What they care about is giving the impression that the reason they oppose the Biden legislation is really that they're just so darn compassionate. 

Unlike us cold-hearted elites who are only concerned with finding ways to spend less time with our children and getting the government to pay for them, you know, and unlike actual working-class people who aren't expected to have any ideas at all unless they can be shoehorned into some idiotic and irrelevant debate point. Let's just have a diaper-off, Brooksy, and find out which of the two of us has really spent quality time with the babies.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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