Everyone's talking about the most surprising and potentially groundbreaking proposal Obama made during last night's State of the Union: universal access to preschool. Obama said he planned to work with states to make "high-quality preschool available to every child in America" because "the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road." But toddlers aren't the only U.S. citizens who would benefit from the president's call; working parents — and thus all of us, really — would too.
Over at Forbes, Bryce Covert has the facts on what we'd get if Obama's proposal came to fruition and what we stand to lose if it doesn't. Since the White House already covered the ways universal preschool helps kids, here's a breakdown of how it helps everyone else.
Just one in five American families still resemble what some conservatives love to call the "traditional family," meaning the man makes the money and the woman makes the home. Mothers are now the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American households with children, but they still spend more than twice as much time as men providing primary care to children. If only there was some place for those children to go!
Since there aren't enough affordable options, fewer women are joining the workforce. A recent study found women's participation rate in the labor force has "all but flatlined" since the 1990s; we've gone from number 6 among 22 developed countries in 1990 to 17. That's at least partially because other countries understand that someone has to take care of the kids; 13 European Union countries offer nearly universal early childhood education for children ages 3-5.
It's easy for the GOP to go on and on about how innocent unborn children deserve the right to life without actually tackling how much it costs to come out of the womb. Full-time child care is expensive! According to NACCRRA, its average annual cost for a four-year-old can be as much as $11,700 a year, more than 10 percent of the median household income for a two-parent family in 22 states and more than the cost of public college in 19.
Families with little kids under the age of five spend more than 10 percent of their household budget on child care on average. Low-income families that make less than $1,500 a month spend more than 50 percent of their budget.
Maybe all this is why the U.S. has the honor of winning the title of "worst country" out of 16 developed nations for single parents to live, even though we have the highest rate of single parenthood. Congrats, guys!
Universal preschool doesn't come cheap; CAP's proposal is $98.4 billion over 10 years, and that's just to start. But study after study shows that it's more than worth it. CAP's report cites a study that found Chicago's preschool program will generate $11 in economic benefits over a child's lifetime for every dollar spent. Not bad!
The alternative isn't just sticking with the status quo; next month, cuts to discretionary spending will force Head Start, one of our few preschool programs, to kick about 70,000 children out. That's why advocates like Covert think Obama's plan should go even further and include universal childcare before children reach age three:
Working parents, particularly the mothers who still do the majority of care work for young children, can't be expected to take three years out of their careers to stay home with young children until they're ready for preschool. CAP's plan also proposes expanding access to subsidized childcare and increasing the amount of the subsidies we provide so that they actually help cover the cost of care. The cost of center-based care for an infant is more than $10,000 a year in 19 states. Yet the average federal subsidy for childcare up to age three is about $5,600 a year, barely covering half.
As of now, Obama's plans are vague; a White House fact sheet simply notes that "the President is proposing to work with Congress to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-old children with high-quality preschool, while also expanding these programs to reach hundreds of thousands of additional middle class children, and incentivizing full-day kindergarten policies, so that all children enter kindergarten prepared for academic success." We're excited to hear more about how the POTUS plans to help all of us via universal access to preschool — even those who are too old for mandated naptimes.