The Future of Child Care in the United States

Updated on 03/07/2023

The Future of Child Care in the United States

During the 2020 election, many candidates made lofty promises about improving child care in the United States. The need for better child care only increased after the pandemic.

Not only were many parents struggling to keep their jobs, but with schools and daycares shutting down, it became even harder for many to work while raising a child. 

Some of these burdens have eased up in 2024, thanks to schools re-opening. However, it doesn’t change the fact that many families are still struggling. In some states, families with two children could end up paying more each month in childcare costs than their mortgage.

Build Back Better Bill

President Biden is working to live up to his campaign promises and solve the childcare crisis. His proposed solution is the Build Back Better plan, one of the most ambitious spending packages in history. 

In addition to child care, the bill is designed to provide massive spending for infrastructure, Medicaid and environmental projects. When the proposal passed in the House of Representatives, nearly $20 billion of the proposed $3.5 trillion was dedicated to child care.

A major component of the plan also promised middle-class families would not spend more than 7% of their income on childcare, with states stepping in to cover the costs.

The Build Back Better bill wasn’t only focused on parents. One of the reasons childcare costs increased is due to states not having the money for childcare programs. The bill promises to increase funding for both new and existing programs, like Head Start, CCDBG and PDG B-5. 

Some of the programs helped with education costs, offering universal kindergarten and more resources for afterschool programs. Others focused on increasing school budgets to hire more educators and provide parents with better schooling options.

An Uphill Battle

While the Build Back Better bill may seem promising, it’s not a guarantee that it will pass. The bill was first introduced shortly after President Biden took office. Since then, the bill has undergone many revisions. 

Initially, President Biden was looking for more than $5 trillion in funding. When concerns about overspending and raising taxes were raised, the bill was renegotiated, dropping the total cost to around $1.5 trillion. 

After finally agreeing on a budget, it seemed like the bill was poised to narrowly pass in the Senate. At the last minute, the bill failed to pass, largely due to stonewalling from senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

While their initial disagreements focused on the overall cost of the bill, even after significant decreases to the spending package, both senators remained opposed to the bill. Much of the current opposition has nothing to do with the childcare portions of the bill, but the environmental proposals. Some senators opposed the bill because it restricts coal and natural gas production.

Election Complications

While many political experts cite Manchin as the largest hurdle in getting Build Back Better passed, he’s certainly not the only voice of opposition. The reason Manchin is a deciding vote is that Republican senators are unwilling to back the bill. 

The GOP took control of the House after the 2022 election. Currently, there Republicans have 222 seats verse Democrats with 213. The next U.S. House of Representatives elections will be in 2024.

While things look grim for the bill, President Biden has recently signaled a willingness to split up the bill into multiple packages. If the childcare components were put into a separate package, it has a much greater chance of passing. 

Parents on both sides of the aisle recognize that the growing cost of child care is a problem, and with the elections right around the corner, both parties would benefit from getting child care policies passed to appease their voting base.

Other Options

The Build Back Better bill is not the only hope for child care. Many states are pushing for local child care support. Most of this is focused on expanding existing programs and providing better funding to school districts.

None of these individual proposals match the scope of Build Back Better. Some proposals also relied on funding becoming available from the bill in the first place.

An issue commonly being discussed is child tax credits. During the pandemic, families received a substantial tax credit based on the number of children in the household. Federally, the tax credit program ended at the start of the year, but several states are discussing reviving the program. 

Seven states already had variants of the program before it was put in place, so there’s plenty of existing groundwork for states to work with. An extension of the tax credits is yet another component proposed in the Build Back Better bill.