On Wednesday night, as President Biden delivered his first speech before a joint session of Congress, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn was busy tweeting. “Biden’s plan is a total government takeover,” read one tweet. “American Jobs Plan... In socialist countries they call it central planning,” read another. But the most mind-numbing tweet was in response to Biden’s universal daycare plan.
“You know who else liked universal day care,” Blackburn wrote, followed by a link to a 1974 New York Times article about the daycare system in the Soviet Union, a heavily subsidized state-run program that allotted mothers to work outside of the home.
Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Family Plan includes a $200 billion investment in universal pre-K, funded in large part from increased taxes on the wealthy. CNN reports that, “The proposal will direct the funds toward universal pre-school for all three- and four-year-olds through a national partnership with states.” According to an administrative official, the universal pre-K program will prioritize “high-need areas” as well as “lower student-to-teacher ratios” and a “developmentally appropriate curriculum.”
According to Blackburn, this is simply Soviet-style communism.
But if Blackburn was hoping that the article she linked to was a damning look into the world of state-run childcare, she didn’t succeed. While the piece took on a skeptical and condescending tone, depicting Soviet women as preternaturally obsessed with labor and unfamiliar with hobbies, quotes from the mothers revealed that their decision to use daycare was perfectly reasonable and comparable to the rationale any American working woman would have today.
From the New York Times, emphasis ours:
The very idea that some American women want to stay at home and raise their own children astonished this 30‐year‐old woman. For her, work was the only satisfying outlet. And despite her frequent contact with Englishspeaking foreign tourists, she knew nothing about the range of voluntary and community activities done by nonworking American women.
“Don’t American women want to get out of the house?” she asked one recent visitor to this Ukrainian city. Don’t you want to work? Don’t you want to earn money and get some independence?”
Still others said they disliked having children raised so much of the time by people outside of the family during the early, formative years.
But some of these women conceded that their concerns were those of a tiny minority of educated, middle‐class intellectuals.
“The great majority of working class women,” observed a woman lawyer, “are delighted to have nurseries and kindergartens. They complain when the nurseries are too far away or do not have enough space for their children. Moreover, they feel that by sending their children to these institutions, they are providing the children with the beginnings of an education.”
Fifty years later, pre-schools and daycares have become a staple in American working life: Most families need more than one income to make ends meet, making the prospect of watching toddlers all day difficult. This is especially true for single parents who act as both primary caregiver and breadwinner. Daycares and pre-schools have become a helpful way to allow parents to work while their children play, learn, and socialize with others.
But Blackburn isn’t alone in her disavowal of such a program. On Thursday, Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance called the proposal “a massive subsidy to the lifestyle preferences of the affluent over the preferences of the middle and working class” and described universay day care as “class war against normal people.”
He shared a chart that indicated that college degree holding parents were far more comfortable with putting their child in “paid child care full time” than those without a college degree.
“It turns out that normal Americans care more about their families than their jobs, and want a family policy that doesn’t shunt their kids into crap daycare so they can enjoy more ‘freedom’ in the paid labor force,” he tweeted.
This, before endorsing a toothless $12k child tax credit hawked by ultra-conservative Republican Senator Josh Hawley, a plan whose benefits are limited and leaves lower-income families and single parents in the dust.
While there are other polls supporting Vance’s argument that those without college degrees are more likely to support stay-at-home parents, the results are likely encouraged by the bleak landscape of childcare in America. Daycare and pre-K programs have grown exorbitantly expensive and competitive, with parents forced to fork out thousands of dollars out-of-pocket or place their children on waitlists before they’re even born. Universal pre-K would help eliminate some of these barriers. Perhaps the data Vance provided would yield different results if parents were offered a universal pre-K scenario instead of a “paid” one.
Plus, one’s preference is often different from one’s reality. Most American families cannot live on one salary alone, and they’re barely getting by on two these days. The idea that universal daycare only appeals to monied careerists and not low-income parents who have less flexibility when it comes to child-rearing simply makes no sense.
Not to mention, the universal pre-K programs that do exist across the country are wildly popular among a wide range of demographics, in states both red and blue.
Since 1998, Oklahoma has provided four-year preschool for every child, regardless of income, and its program is one of the most celebrated in the nation. Florida, Vermont, and West Virginia, and Georgia also provide universal pre-K statewide, though they vary in terms of access; the same can be said of universal pre-k programs in cities like New York City, Boston, San Antonio, and the District of Columbia.
These programs are not simply for so-called urban elites. If anything, the wealthy urbanite parents Vance is conjuring have far more options in terms of childcare than working-class ones. They appeal to normal people with normal jobs that don’t allow them to lug their kid around with them, from New York City to Macon, Georgia. Additionally, this extra boost in funding by the Biden administration will provide more money to states like Missouri with poorly funded universal pre-K programs.
Of course, there are other things the federal government can implement in concert with universal pre-K that would make those first few years of child rearing less dysfunctional: At least one-year of paid parental leave, flexible child allowances, an increased federal minimum wage. But universal pre-K is a great first step, and heavily subsidizing these programs puts more money in people’s pockets and allows children to get plenty of socialization and education before they set off to school.
Hours before Biden’s speech, Blackburn spoke to Fox Business and falsely claimed that the Biden administration is “going to mandate” universal pre-K. This isn’t true: Parents who are able to take care of their children full time will still have that option, despite Blackburn’s dramatics and Vance’s short-sighted galaxy brain screed. But for working parents who don’t have that option—white-collar, blue-collar, and every color collar in-between—quality universal pre-K programs with robust funding is a Godsend, and it’s about time the whole nation got on board.