The socialist publication Mother Jones was appropriately the first to report that Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris plans to turn public schools more openly into daycare centers. On Wednesday, Mother Jones summarized, Harris released a Senate bill to create:
A pilot program that gives money to 500 schools that serve a high proportion of low-income families to develop a school schedule that better matches the work schedule. Each recipient school would receive up to $5 million dollars over five years to keep their doors open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with no closures except for weekends, federal holidays, and emergencies.
While the actual bill text is not yet available, its summary states it would also send federal taxpayers’ money to “support programs and activities during summer recess when school is not in session.”
Look, this is just not something government should be doing. Child care is a private, family responsibility. That’s not just because it’s the duty of the two adults who brought a child into the world to provide for that child, but also because children turn out by far the best when their families provide most of their care. So our laws should make it more possible and more expected for families to care for their own children, not less.
We don’t need more family displacement strategies, we need fewer. We don’t need more people leaving their responsibilities to others whose poop is better grouped, we need more families being expected to solve their own problems, pay their own way, and stand on their own feet. This idea is the exact opposite of family friendly, because it subsumes the needs of children to the demands of adults, and helps adults abandon their responsibilities.
Children Need More Parenting, Not Less
Little children in particular have a very difficult time being away from especially their mothers for long periods of time. Their little brains also need less scheduled activity and more frequent breaks from it. Anyone who has ever extensively cared for or taught a small child knows this. As it happens, my husband teaches first graders and we have five children, so I know lots about it experientially.
It’s also backed up by the data: Children who are away from their mothers more often when young show marked increases in aggression, depression, behavior problems, anxiety, later crime rates, and more, all in direct proportion to the amount of time they spend away from mom. A study in Norway also found benefits to older children of a parent staying home after the birth of a younger sibling. While of course older children are more stable than preschoolers, family separation still affects them. Divorces, for example, hit babies, preschoolers, and middle-schoolers hardest.
Each successive American generation has also shown marked increases in anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems as American parents have increasingly absented themselves through behaviors such as never marrying, mothers’ workforce participation, divorce, and tech addictions, not to mention overscheduling their kids and telling themselves it’s “enrichment.” Of course this is correlation, not causation, but causation should absolutely be determined before we separate more families in the name of “the economy.” Children’s well-being is at stake.
Many of the people proposing increased family separation in the name of economic progress clearly lack the emotional intuition, the knowledge of the research, or the experience with children to see how what’s good for adults might very likely harm kids. It seems all they care about is the money and convenience for adults short-term. But the whole point of being an adult is that we should absorb and solve problems so children don’t have to. Our job is to take weight off their shoulders, not add it.
For Gods sake everyone Kamala Harris is not trying to make your kids go to school until 6 pm! She wants to fund aftercare programs of the kind that already exist in public schools with affluent PTAs.
— Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn) November 6, 2019
We shouldn’t base public policy on convenience for adults. We should base it on what is best for everyone long-term. And this is very obviously not best for children. While polling is not the arbiter of reality, most Americans agree. Pew Research found “59% of U.S. adults believe that children with two parents are better off when a parent stays home.” They’re right.
We need to be encouraging more of what is best for kids instead encouraging higher-risk situations for children.
Government Already Does Too Much Parenting
For those who say, like the Mother Jones author spent Wednesday doing on Twitter, to calm down because this is just a pilot program for only a few neighborhoods, just stop. Everyone who has ever read a book about U.S. political history knows that federal programs almost never get cut no matter how useless and expensive they are.
The point of a pilot program is to stick in the thin end of an enormous, never-shrinking wedge. Government’s displacement of family over the past century started back in 1935 with a Social Security carveout — one could call it a “pilot” — making federal taxpayers support widowed and abandoned wives so they could raise their children.
Before that, local taxpayers had supported such needs, and quite efficiently. Benjamin Franklin writes about it in his autobiography. Instead, that one federal program has become a hodgepodge of some 45 for early learning and child care, plus some 92 direct welfare programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. None of these works very well, or at all, but none is likely to ever get cut. But they should be.
We Should Encourage More Self-Reliance, Not Less
The United States’ experiment with massive welfare programs has demonstrated a definite link between providing welfare and increasing dependence, plus depriving children of the married parents they clearly need. Before the United States started federal welfare programs, the poorest Americans were the most likely to be working. Now the poorest Americans are the least likely to be working, as Phil Gramm and John F. Early wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month:
The expanding availability of antipoverty transfers [i.e., welfare] has devastated the work effort of poor and lower-middle income families. By 1975 the lowest-earning fifth of families had 24.8% more families with a prime-work age head and no one working than did their middle-income peers. By 2015 this differential had risen to 37.1%. And by that same year, even families in the lower-middle income quintile headed by working-age persons were almost 6% more likely to have no one working than a similar family in the middle-income quintile.
These authors pointed out in a more recent WSJ article that the United States’ “poorest” fifth, not coincidentally, don’t need to work, because thanks to federal welfare programs they have approximately $51,000 per year in available financial resources. That’s near the national median income, with $46,000 of that provided by taxpayers through these 137-plus welfare programs I mentioned above. Economic demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has done repeated work showing a massive retreat from work among lower-income, able-bodied, working-age Americans, especially men.
Why is this possible? Because government has displaced fathers. While of course one must consider the sexual revolution a major factor, the United States’ unmarried birthrate has skyrocketed in direct tandem with the federal subsidies available for unmarried childbearing. The two charts below show unmarried childbearing from 1940 to 2013. Note the dramatic uptick starting right at the time of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in 1965. Today, 40 percent of babies are born to unmarried mothers. This is a national crisis, as fatherless children are more likely to drop out of high school, use welfare, use drugs, commit crimes, and more.
America’s lowest class increasingly expects other people to bear the responsibility for their lives. This is extremely bad for them and their kids, and needs to be reversed, not reinforced.
The economist George Gilder puts two and two together: “The other way to look at this withdrawal of men from work is the withdrawal of women from marriage and motherhood and the movement of men into increasingly short-term and feral sexual behavior…The chief motive for male work effort is the approval of women and children and a successful role as father and breadwinner.”
Harris’s proposal very visually falls in the category of making government play full-time parents to children while making the real parents into divorced dads, with visiting rights to their own children only on evenings and weekends. But government sucks at replacing parents. The rest of us aren’t so good at it either. As Rebekah Curtis wrote for The Federalist in an incisive essay two years ago:
Under single motherhood, the daily work of parenting is informally shared by the mother and society in general. The more generally the work is societally outsourced, the less well it is performed. If the village is raising the child, whose job is it to play catch with him on Sunday afternoon? Aren’t most villagers called upon to pay some attention to their own families on their precious Sunday afternoons?
It is a basic law of economics and human nature that if you pay for something, you get more of it. Therefore, we need to stop paying people to create children outside marriage, not pay them more to generate half-orphaned children. If we are paying for anything at all, we should be paying for marriage. Willis Krumholz has an extensive proposal for how states might begin to do so.
An Economy Is for Families, Not the Other Way Around
Another major factor here is the dramatic increase in Americans and politicians trying to orient society around financial transactions rather than seeing economic activity as merely one sector of a flourishing society. Work is noble and every able-bodied adult has a duty to contribute to society, but it is also not the be all, end all.
Mostly, work is a means to other, more important ends: Providing for customers’ needs, providing clothes and food for one’s children, usefully employing one’s skills, and funding necessary charitable and social actions that cannot pay for themselves, such as churches and crisis pregnancy centers.
The whole point of work is to serve others. When it instead is primarily to serve ourselves, we become worse people. Too many Americans, especially politicians, see the economy as the zenith of personal and government action. They act as if a career is the highest source of fulfillment and social goods. This is not true and thus is distorting policy and culture.
Staggering. Workism*, in full. They have no idea how much more family & friends matter for our sense of meaning and happiness in life.
* Workism=Making work the source & summit of your life. https://t.co/BZWh8tar8F
— Brad Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP) November 6, 2019
If this were true, nobody would ever have children. Children don’t produce economic resources, they soak them up. Children distract parents from high-level economic activity and output. Indeed, it’s probably no coincidence that as economic productivity has become more Americans’ god, our child production has taken a nosedive. We assert some fabled $55 billion in “productivity losses” can justify confiscating money from families who have made prudent financial choices for the purpose of warehousing others’ children in daytime orphanages with strangers. That’s utterly ridiculous on its face, yet here we are.
Deleted this tweet because folks misinterpreted it to mean Harris would mandate a longer academic day. That’s not what the bill does.@KamalaHarris‘ bill helps schools come up with creative ways to fix a problem working families deal with.
— Kara Voght (@karavoght) November 6, 2019
Kids definitely get in the way of making money, having fun, and achieving career glory. Yet one of the glorious things about children is that they order your priorities in the right way.
They teach you that people who value a promotion or public recognition over nurturing needy little humans, who would kill their children or sign them over to strangers from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week to get an easier life, who would not take care to create a stable marriage to support their children before bringing them into the world, who prefer to live life for themselves and make no commitment to support anyone else through thick and thin — these are not the best sort of people.
Societies do not last long without enough people who are willing to sacrifice their comfort for a greater good.
A society with these sorts of priorities is also not the best sort of society. It is a selfish society. And societies do not last long without enough people who are willing to sacrifice their comfort for a greater good. Good parents have developed precisely this kind of character, and they raise this sort of person for the next generation. That is why families have been considered the bedrock of society since the beginning of time.
We do not have families for the sake of the economy. We have an economy for the sake of families. The point of an economy should be to serve the greater good, and the greater good is not served by enabling more people to pleasure themselves in a greater variety of ways.
The greater good is served by developing citizens who are willing and able to do the very hard work of self-government, which requires self-sacrifice, discipline, delayed gratification, and non-negotiable commitments to serving others. Developing this kind of character requires citizens growing up in and creating strong families. And strong families are not fostered by mother or father absence. So we shouldn’t encourage it.