Problems Only Government Can Solve: Early Child-Care Edition

Elliot Haspel writing for The Washington Post:

More philosophically, the nation needs to ask itself a question: Do we really want programs caring for toddlers and their rapidly developing brains to be competing for staff with fast food joints and big box stores (worthy of a decent wage as those employees are)? Do we want market forces determining whether parents have viable, quality options for their care/work arrangements? There is a reason we don’t expose fire departments or public schools to the invisible, raw hand of capitalism; child-care programs are equally essential to the functioning of society and the development of children.

The child-care staffing shortage is going to rapidly worsen absent permanent public investment, causing a cascading set of negative impacts on parents, children and businesses as early as this summer. The market is not coming to save working families. The hour grows late for policymakers to grasp this reality and open a pipeline of sustainable public money into the long-neglected child-care sector.

Market forces are good, most of the time. Market forces will, eventually, and with some kicking, spur restaurants to pay workers better now that there’s a labor shortage. But market forces aren’t going to solve the labor crisis in early-child care.

Haspel is right, we don’t rely on the market to fund fire departments or public schools. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s time to recognize that early child-care is mission critical to a functioning economy and a diverse workforce, and for government to provide the missing investment.