Commentary: Scott Centorino – Childcare is the kaleidoscope of 2021

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes a word is a kaleidoscope.

It is a reminder of the chaos wreaked by millions of families during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also evoking the development of deeply ingrained cultural norms.

Look at it from a different angle and it will capture the distortions of the addictive statism that characterizes our political moment.

Spin it again and you’ll see modern media groupthink at work.

In a recent story from ABC’s Good Morning America, we see the kaleidoscope in action. Historically, the lack of affordable childcare has been cited as the main reason why millions of women are inactive. Because of me.

ABC journalists could then have pushed the story in the same direction as many others, highlighting the ongoing political effort to subsidize childcare.

After all, journalists share the natural tendency to act. And their stories usually paint a picture of heroic problem solvers rolling up their sleeves and pushing for more spending.

But ABC deserves credit for turning the story in a different direction.

They asked a simple question: why is childcare less affordable? That is the question of working families who do not schedule their mornings to meet politicians between committee meetings.

It’s funny what can happen when journalists ask questions instead of sticking to the prevailing narrative structure of the day. In this case, ABC has raised the possibility that the state itself bears part of the responsibility for unaffordable childcare.

The segment determined how government regulations for restrictive staff-child ratios can drive costs up. Do it. Existing daycare centers sell these mandates as needed to protect children. But they are doing more to protect the existing daycare centers from cheap competition.

The network’s journalists even pointed out that the number of childcare workers has fallen by 15% since the pandemic began. But groupthink must have prevailed, as ABC didn’t connect the dots any further.

Allow me to do so. By now we all understand how federal policies like the unemployment bonus have fueled labor shortages across the economy. As in elections, paying Americans not to work has ramifications.

In addition, there are the educational requirements imposed by the states on childcare workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has noted that most states even require a bachelor’s degree from childcare directors. This displaces many future educators from the market.

The results follow the basic law of supply and demand. When a good or service such as childcare is in high demand but in short supply, prices rise. Giving more childcare workers access to the market would increase supply, help meet demand and lower childcare prices.

If Chipotle needs to raise the price of a burrito to offset rising labor costs, why shouldn’t the same principle apply to childcare – a market with even more supply-side constraints?

Even Jason Furman, chairman of former President Barack Obama’s Economic Advisory Board, co-wrote a study that confirmed that overly “generous” unemployment benefits are fueling current labor shortages more than a new crisis of unaffordable childcare.

For caffeine-addicted journalists with a deadline in mind, this story doesn’t fit easily into the paradigm of a red team versus blue team argument over an underfunded program.

But that is exactly what makes it tragic. It is a story of government pressuring working women from both sides. Poor policies such as educational requirements and the ratio of staff to child have resulted in more childcare workers, over 90% of whom are women, being forced out of the market. At the same time, other policies have increased the cost of mothers who depend on childcare to work.

When you combine sensible regulations that encourage competition, choice, and more childcare workers with welfare programs that do a lot more to provide child support to low-income families, you may see progress.

Unfortunately, the Biden government has proposed the opposite – more subsidies to cover these higher costs.

But American families know all too well that more public money won’t cut costs. It hides the cost. And without transparency, prices go up.

We see it in healthcare and higher education. The state has intervened and subsidized more and more over the decades. And the price we pay just keeps getting higher.

To prevent the same dynamic in childcare, let’s turn the kaleidoscope again. The solution – more reforms, not more spending – is in there somewhere.

Scott Centorino is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. He wrote this for

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