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Parents know what kids need, so provide help…and a choice

Rea S. Hederman Jr. Sep 12, 2021

This opinion piece was published in the Dayton Daily News.

As COVID19 continues to affect Ohio school children, families and businesses, policymakers seek solutions to offset the pandemic’s impact. One threat to Ohio’s economic recovery remains record job openings and a shortage of workers to fill them.

Various proposals purport to solve that problem, including a misguided effort to have the federal government pay for child care.

School closures have undoubtedly affected parents and students, but some economists have found that parents of small children were not any more likely to leave the labor force than workers without young children — which means that government-funded child care will not solve the worker shortage problem.

When governments pay for goods and services, the prices for those goods and services rise. This has proven true time and again in housing markets, health care, national defense and education — have you heard about tuition at publicly subsidized universities? Governments do not have cost-saving incentives. They do not spend our money as wisely as we spend our money. They do not look for the best deal or drive a hard bargain, and they rarely balance their checkbooks.

Instead, government makes life — and child rearing — more expensive. It charges taxpayers for goods and services they may never use. It imposes regulatory burdens on business and industry that ultimately make their way to consumers in the checkout line.

In fact, big government has made life and child rearing more expensive, and families with young children do need help. But that help should come with more choice, not less, and with more tax relief, not higher taxes driven by more government spending.

Parents should be free to choose whether early child care is right for them and their children. Parents know far better than governments what kinds of care and early education their young children need — and they should be free to find it on their own, even if that means providing the care themselves in their own home. Families should never be told that governments are the only available care providers for young children.

Instead, policymakers should build and reform existing child tax credits to make early child care and education more affordable. Such tax credits have gained bipartisan support in recent years and have been expanded to help more children and families. Parents should be offered more resources and financial flexibility that encourage and support at-home care. One place to start would be to reform and boost the Earned Income Tax Credit to give more aid to working married couples. This would not only help offset some of the penalties married couples face, but it would encourage work by tying benefits to earnings.

Policymakers could also improve the expanded federal child tax credit, which was doubled in 2017 to $2,000 per child, by reducing its benefits for wealthy families. Savings from the improvement should ensure that the tax credit is permanent so parents can plan for the future without worrying that the credit will be reduced or eliminated down the road.

Despite what some politicians tell us, government is not the only thing that cares, and government-run child care is not the only child care. But government can and should make early child care more affordable for everyone. And it can start by rejecting a false binary choice, and protecting and promoting the family’s freedom to choose instead.

Rea S. Hederman Jr. is executive director of the Economic Research Center and vice president of policy at The Buckeye Institute.