Which of these 4 family policies deserves the highest priority?

But others said they’d rather the money went straight to daycare or pre-K because it would help moms work. “I’ve always been very sensitive to policies that even inadvertently discourage maternal participation,” said Barbara Risman, a sociologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “In the long run, those families will have fewer resources if the mothers have lower incomes.”

“It does the most to empower families to do what they think is best for their families.” — H. Luke Shaefer, Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, University of Michigan

“We have pretty unequivocal evidence that increasing financial resources for families with young children has important and lasting effects.” — Maya Rossin-Slater, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Economics, Stanford

“The money can be spent on anything, not just childcare, and it will cover children who are older than the usual age at which childcare is used.” — Claudia Goldin, professor of economics, Harvard

“It can reduce child poverty right now, is likely to improve mobility in the long term and is unlikely to reduce maternal employment.” — Joanna Pepin, assistant professor of sociology, University at Buffalo

“Families are getting it now, and what a shame it would be to take it away.” — Jane Waldfogel, Professor of Social Work, Columbia

Three of the experts chose this as the most important. The considered plan would make childcare free for the lowest incomes. And it wouldn’t cost others more than 7 percent of income, up to a given income.

“It would probably attract more women into the workforce, so the overall benefit to the family would be more than just the lower cost of childcare,” said Jill Yavorsky, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

It would also help close racial differences, as black and Hispanic women have become disproportionately unemployed during the pandemic, said Fatima Suarez, a sociologist at Stanford. “Childcare subsidies are not only a family issue, but also a question of race, class and gender equality,” she said.

Others said grants alone would not be enough to address other childcare issues, such as unavailability, low provider pay and varying levels of quality. And some preferred universal benefits over means-tested ones — it would make the program more popular and improve quality, they said, and childcare is unaffordable for many middle-class families.

“It would provide the greatest benefit to mothers who do not have enough income to cover childcare costs.” — Jill Yavorsky, assistant professor of sociology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

“Essential workers are disproportionately colored women, and they don’t earn nearly enough to survive, let alone pay for childcare.” — Fatima Suarez, postdoctoral researcher, Stanford

“I’m weighing what would help the greatest number of families for the longest period of time with the maximum money in the parents’ pockets.” — Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology, Washington University in St. Louis

The United States is the only wealthy country without a federal mandate to offer paid leave for new parents or for medical emergencies. The Democrats’ plan would give American workers up to 12 weeks. Research has shown that this is especially beneficial for the lowest earners and those with unstable jobs, who are now at risk of poverty if they need care or are ill.

“It provides a necessary safety net for lower-income families when they experience major life events,” said Youngjoo Cha, a sociologist at Indiana University Bloomington. “It has a strong impact on gender equality at work and at home. It will generate a long-lasting effect by also equalizing the gender distribution of work at home.”

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