The case for federally funded daycare isn’t a hard one to make to a group of parents with 11-month-olds who are desperately searching for affordable—and reliable—daycare.
Perhaps if we had enough parents who knew exactly what it's like to shell over thousands of dollars a month in daycare, the issue of universal childcare would stay at the top of the government’s agenda. But we don’t.
Read more: The Canadian child care crisis>
All the math points in the direction of universal daycare. In order for an economy to function, you need skilled employees to be able to work. TD Economics estimates that for every dollar invested in daycare, the return is $1.50 to the economy. It means more women are paying income tax, and less women are on welfare. Many studies have shown that early, stimulating education at a young age also has payoff for the government with lower health and welfare costs later on.
But we know all that already.
Women may race to put their name down for daycare as soon at the plus sign appears on their pregnancy test, but we as a society are fundamentally ambivalent about mothers working full-time. According to the Globe and Mail, more than two-thirds of Canadian women with kids younger than five are in the workforce. Many of these women pay between $40 to $70 dollars a day for childcare. Others may send their kids to an unlicensed daycare because they've run out of options. Some have their kids cared for by family members. Or they may have an arrangement with their partner to work opposite shifts so someone is always home with the kids.
A study from the Pew Research Center says that in the US 70 percent of all mothers are working outside of the home. This is in stark contrast to the 60 percent of Americans who say children are best when a parent stays home full-time. This statistic shows that even parents who work think their kids are better off with a parent at home.
See what I mean by ambivalence? (I am making the assumption that we have the same mixed feelings here in Canada.)
Canada has been criticized on the international stage for our ridiculously high cost of daycare, which is the fifth-highest of 30 industrialized countries. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), families pay the equivalent of 18 percent of their income on childcare. Low-income, single-parent families pay a shocking 48 percent of their net income—second-highest behind Ireland. The rankings are slightly off as Quebec’s universal child-care plan makes the rest of the country look better.
In lieu of federally funded daycare, Ontario is making full-day junior kindergarten an option for all four-year-olds. This makes it easier for parents to work, but may have an unintended consequence of making daycares more expensive. The older kids subsidize the younger ones and without them around the cost of running the business increases.
It doesn’t make sense for parents to stay home out of necessity and not choice. It doesn’t make sense for children to be in unlicensed daycares that fly under the radar of regulation. And it certainly doesn’t make sense for thousands of kids to be on subsidized daycare waiting lists, while daycares shut down because people can’t afford them. What makes sense is a federal government taking risks and investing in the next generation. However, they may not see the immediate returns in their four-year term.
But sometimes the government has to look ahead and know that they are investing in the voters of tomorrow, not just the ones today.