No, Donald Trump, The Free Market Can't Solve The Child Care Crisis

Parents need a real solution to the lack of affordable day care for kids.

Good child care is hard to find and even more difficult to afford in the U.S. And when asked, at a town hall meeting in Iowa Thursday, how he’d solve the problem as president, Donald Trump offered up a seductive, but grossly inadequate solution: More companies should offer on-site day care to their employees.

“You know it’s not expensive for a company to do it, you need one person or two people and you need some blocks, you need some swings, you need some toys,” he said. The GOP presidential frontrunner explained that he offers on-site care at two of his offices.

“They call them Trump Kids … Another one calls it Trumpateers. It’s cute ... It’s something that can be done I think very easily by a company,” Trump said.

Putting aside the obvious (one hopes) fact that quality day care is more complicated than a couple of babysitters and some blocks and swings, company-provided care is something that simply doesn’t make sense for many employers for a host of reasons -- including cost, employee demographics and logistics.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump says companies should offer on-site day care.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump says companies should offer on-site day care.
Scott Olson via Getty Images

Indeed, only 2 percent of businesses in the U.S. currently provide on-site day care, according to a 2014 survey from the Families and Work Institute.

So, no. It’s not the answer to what’s become a hugely urgent issue for many American families. A smattering of employers offering on-site day care doesn't solve what's become a systemic and pressing issue. Just like the recent spate of companies improving the quality of their parental leave policies doesn't make up for the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country where parents aren't guaranteed paid leave.

Despite what Trump suggests, child care is one of those societal issues you simply can't leave up to businesses to solve.

“It would be great if more employers offered more child care, but we know not everyone is going to,” Vivien Labaton, co-executive director of Make It Work, a nonprofit campaign focused on economic security for women and families, told The Huffington Post. “Your ability to access care shouldn’t hinge on whether you won the office lottery and happen to work at a place that provides child care.”

Labaton’s group is advocating for a national policy solution to the problem. And it’s a doozy of a problem. It's more expensive to pay for a year of day care for an infant than to pay for a year of tuition at public colleges in most U.S. states, according to an analysis of child care costs by the progressive Economic Policy Institute, Daniel Marans wrote about earlier this year.

Many parents are forced to send their children to day care providers that are scarily unsafe because it's all they can afford.

“Despite what Trump suggests, child care is one of those societal issues you simply can't leave up to businesses to solve.”

For some businesses, offering child care to workers is a classic win-win: they earn workers' loyalty, and can even save money because employees are less likely to miss work. One California bank saved around $200,000 in annual costs using an on-site center, according to an analysis cited by Businessweek in 2007. A few well-known companies offer on-site care, including Google (at its headquarters in Mountain View, California) and tech company SAS.

A Toyota plant in Kentucky has a great day care center, Ken Matos, senior director of research at the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, told HuffPost. Workers, who are relatively low paid, can drop their kids and then work a full night shift, he said. That widens the pool of available labor to the automaker.

“It’s an example of how child care can be useful," he said. "But they’re a large company with a lot of land. Imagine a company in New York City trying something similar.”

For smaller companies the costs may be out of reach. State regulations around day care can be onerous, Baldwin said. Even if they’re not, the price of providing quality, enriching care can be high. It can cost around $2 million simply to build an on-site day care that can handle 100 kids, according to data cited by Fortune magazine.

Also, companies don't usually offer free care to workers -- they offer subsidized care, Baldwin said. And for many low-paid workers even that is too expensive.

“Corporate-sponsored child care is a great idea, but the notion that an on-site center is going to work for every company is a little bit missing the mark,” Debra Baldwin, director of corporate partnerships at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, told HuffPost.

Even if you can do it, businesses don’t always have the right employee demographics. You need a critical mass of parents working for you -- if you have a lot of older or younger employees, it’s not going to work, Baldwin and Matos both pointed out.

And there are more reasons this is unworkable: If you’re a business with a dispersed workforce scattered across lots of different offices all around the country, you may not be able to scale this in every location. If you employ a bunch of people who have a long commute, this isn’t going to cut it either. Workers may not want to schlepp their kids for an hour to get them to day care everyday.

Labaton applauded Trump for bringing up the issue, though. “I think it’s great that candidates are even talking about this problem,” she said.

She thinks the issue is coming up with the presidential candidates now because Americans are at a breaking point. “More women are breadwinners and that’s changed the dynamics of family and at home. It’s clear that our policies were created in a different era and reflect a different workplace and people are just feeling the pain of that.” She said that nationwide polling suggests that support for quality child care has become a nonpartisan issue.

In an ideal world Labaton's group would like to see day care workers making a minimum of $15 an hour and parents spending a maximum of 10 percent of their income on care. Right now in some states parents spend as much as 30 percent, according to one EPI analysis.

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