Why the State Should Provide Daycare for Working Parents

Last Updated Jan 5, 2010 3:48 PM EST

I just finished Who's Your City, a recent book by Richard Florida, the fellow following the rise of the global "creative class." Using comprehensive surveys and academic-grade statistical analyses, Florida and his team try to find out exactly what makes particular places appealing to certain groups along various stages of their lives.

It's probably no surprise that parents whose children live at home rank family-friendly public services as important---often more so than the availability of nearby jobs (that's why people are willing to commute over an hour so they can keep their house where crime is low and public school scores are high). Yet across America, Florida says parents complain about a lack of quality, affordable daycare options. Communities (and corporations) that do provide daycare options end up attracting the most happy and productive working professionals. Florida even claims that this issue causes top talent from abroad to leave their positions in the United States and head home, despite the sacrifice in pay, once they decide to start a family.

Unfortunately, in this era, both parents often have to work full-time in order to make ends meet. That leaves less time to look after, let alone raise, children before they head to kindergarten. Government policies have helped to foster the market conditions which got us into this mess. And only government seems to have the capacity to get us out of it before foreign countries leapfrog us on the talent front.

Many will claim that the free market can best handle the situation. After all, if there is such a demand for childcare services, why haven't entrepreneurs filled the gap and opened more childcare facilities at lower price points? My guess is that parents don't really want to risk leaving their little angels at a discount childcare mill. Only government is in the position to properly professionalize this informal sector, ensuring that all childcare practitioners can handle basic education and safety duties.

I don't think government-run daycare should be mandatory but it does seem to make sense for the state to at least subsidize the option. Yes, there is a risk that irresponsible parents will foist their kids onto the state. Therefore, to reduce, rather than increase, reliance on the welfare state, access to these facilities could be preconditioned on proof of employment from both parents.

It's also completely plausible that investing in daycare now will save money in public education down the road. Many kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are already behind their peers from good suburban schools by the time they get to kindergarten. I doubt that investing in childcare will eliminate inequality, since wealthier families can always opt for private facilities where the kids are learning Mandarin instead of the ABCs. But an investment in early education could support those who are a little behind and lift everyone at an impressionable stage of childhood development. Then, our society wouldn't have to spend as much trying to reach out to dropouts who can't even read by the time they get to high school.

Canada has been increasing its government-run childcare facilities for decades now. Do you think such a program can and should happen here? Please share your thoughts below.

  • Stefan Deeran

    Stefan Deeran helps environmental nonprofits and green businesses develop and execute their new media campaigns. He also publishes The Exception magazine, a nonpartisan news platform serving his home state of Maine. You can follow him on Twitter @RStefanDeeran or via Facebook.