Biden's free daycare plan isn't what Americans really want
Subsidies for one parent to stay home are vastly more popular than free daycare
President Biden's American Families Plan, which he touted in his speech Wednesday evening to Congress, would invest large sums of money in care for kids under 5: $200 billion for free preschool and $225 billion on childcare subsidies and higher wages for childcare workers. If implemented, it could dramatically change the financial circumstances of many American families, particularly those with lower incomes. As the White House fact sheet says, it would "enable those who dropped out of the workforce [to care for their young children] ... to rejoin and stay in the workforce."
But that's not what most lower-income and working-class Americans want, poll results from this past January show. They overwhelmingly prefer to have one parent work fulltime and one provide childcare at home. Both parents working fulltime and using paid childcare was the least popular choice for lower-income respondents (those with "less than a 4-year degree and household income below $30,000") and second to last for the working class ("less than a 4-year degree and household income $30,000–$70,000"). The middle class has mixed opinions, and only the upper class ("household income above $150,000") favors having both parents in the workforce.
These numbers come from the Home Building Survey, conducted by YouGov for American Compass, a populist-right policy shop. American Compass obviously has an agenda here, but this is a solid survey with a "representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18–50 living in the United States." Other polls have produced similar results.
The Home Building Survey also asked participants what type of parental assistance from Washington they prefer. Here again the class differences were stark, and daycare subsidies fared poorly with the lower and working classes. Biden and all of Congress would fall in the "upper class" category by this measure, and the president's plan — though it also includes family leave and monthly child tax credits — significantly reflects upper-class ideas.
A more broadly popular option would equally support whatever childcare option parents prefer. It might be something like the People's Policy Project's "Family Fun Pack," which would combine free daycare for those who want it with "a home childcare benefit ... that is roughly equal to the per-child wages of childcare workers" for those who don't. This isn't a uniquely American or left-wing idea: Germany has something similar, as this article advocating a flexible childcare benefit in the conservative National Review observes. To my knowledge, Congress is not considering any legislation to this effect.