Childcare Is Ridiculously Over-Regulated

And that's why it is so expensive.

Just as Obamacare drove up the price of health care, government regulation is driving up the price of day care and school lunches.As presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton grapple with the high cost of child care, there’s no better time to read Abby W. Schachter’s new book, “No Child Left Alone: Getting the Government Out of Parenting,” published by Encounter Books. Guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, it describes how federal and state regulations affect all aspects of child rearing, from birth to high school graduation.

Bureaucrats want to tell moms whether to feed babies formula or breast milk, what to put in lunch boxes, how far children are allowed to walk alone, and at what ages. They want to regulate what products are sold, not just to children, but to adults, in case children ingest dangerous substances or choke on a dangling cord.

Day-care costs are an especially hot topic for the presidential campaign because they have risen 70% since the 1980s. In 31 states and Washington D.C., day care is more expensive than public college tuition, according to Schachter.

The presidential candidates are taking different approaches to tackle the problem of high child-care costs. Clinton plans to cap child-care expenses at 10% of family income. She wants to accomplish this “by significantly increasing the federal government’s investment in child-care subsidies and providing tax relief for the cost of child care to working families.”

Clinton also wants to create a new program to grant $1,500 scholarships to “as many as one million” students’ parents to help them cover child-care expenses. That won’t necessarily help much with day care, because the average cost is $1,000 per child per month.

Trump proposes allowing parents to deduct the average cost of child care in their state from their taxable income. That would be an “above-the-line” deduction, which means that even if families do not itemize, they would be able to deduct the cost. Low-income families who do not owe income tax could deduct the cost against payroll taxes.

Why does child care cost so much in the first place? A Mercatus Center study by Diana Thomas and Devon Gorry last year found that regulations such as caps on care-worker-to-child ratios and staff-certification requirements are major factors in increasing the cost of child care.

Schachter provides shocking examples of these regulations. Arizona has 114 pages of regulations, and Michigan has 329 pages. Those range from the required spacing between the coat hooks and mattresses to the type of food that can be served.

In several states babies are not allowed to be swaddled when they sleep, to prevent sudden infant death syndrome — even though there is no evidence that swaddling is connected with SIDS. This makes babies fussier, requiring additional day-care staffers.

Bureaucrats seem particularly preoccupied with what children eat at day-care centers. That’s not surprising to anyone who has observed the change in government nutrition guidelines over the years. For instance, meat and eggs were in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s, out in the 1970s through the 2000s, and now back in again. Butter and whole milk were taboo, but now they’re part of “good cholesterol.”

So it doesn’t seem as though anyone should believe the bureaucrats any more. But that doesn’t stop them from issuing countless food regulations. Day-care centers run by Head Start have to follow rules issued by the Department of Agriculture, including requirements to provide foods such as cow’s milk, even if parents prefer that children not drink cow’s milk.

Day-care providers in Pennsylvania, Schachter’s home state, are required to throw out uneaten food and wash out containers in case the child might consume hazardous material later on.

Just as Obamacare drove up the price of health care, government regulation is driving up the price of day care and school lunches.

The nanny state follows children all the way through school. On the one hand, school systems weigh children and send home letters if they think they are overweight. Yet on the other hand, they limit recess and activities such as dodgeball and tag because those games might cause accidents. Reasonable people might think that the school systems might see a link between banning physical activity and the increase in obesity. But bureaucrats don’t seem to have made the connection.

Schachter’s rigorous analysis of the way government is elbowing aside parental decision-making and raising costs is chilling — and deserves to be read by parents and non-parents alike.

This column is reprinted from Economics21

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