Free Market Fundamentalist Opinion

Overregulation Makes Child Care More Expensive in DC

Democrats require a college degree from all workers.

Washington DC
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015 (Matt Popovich)

Child-care workers without a college education will have to give up their profession in Washington DC.

Regulations that were meant to go into effect in 2020, applying to all daycare centers and some home-based child-care businesses, were challenged by two child-care workers and a parent, but a federal court ruled for the district this week. Reason has the story.

The two workers, Altagracia Sanchez and Dale Sorcher, have 49 years of child-care experience between them. Both have Bachelor’s degrees — but not in early-childhood education, making them ineligible under DC’s new rules.

Democrats make child care more expensive

I don’t usually write about local stories, but DC’s child-care regulations could be a harbinger of things to come. Democrats, who govern the district, included similar rules in their “Build Back Better” legislation. They were left out when the bill became the Inflation Reduction Act.

Currently, most Democratic-ruled states require a Bachelor’s degree from child-care directors and a certification from child-care workers. Republican-governed states typically require a certification from directors and no papers from staff.

That has an impact on price. In lightly regulated Alabama and Mississippi, full-time daycare for a 4 year-old costs under $5,000 per year. Daycare centers in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington charge in excess of $10,000 per child. Even before the new regulations, DC topped the list with an average annual cost of $18,000 per child.

All wages are lower in Alabama and Mississippi. The average salary in the two states is between $47,000 and $50,000 per year. But that doesn’t explain the whole difference in price. The average salary in DC is $90,000, 80 percent higher than in Alabama, yet the average cost of child care in the district is 260 percent higher.

The question is not: do regulations drive up costs? Of course they. The question is: are they worth it?

Good enough for Denmark

Democrats and the child-care lobby will argue that worker requirements are needed to “provide important safety protections for children and uphold the quality of early education and care.” But when they give examples of underregulation, it’s usually from one of the few states that don’t require any credentials of daycare workers, like Pennsylvania, or from centers that didn’t follow the rules.

As for quality, the Care Index, which combines child-care statistics and survey data, reveals no correlation with cost. Democratic-controlled states in the Northeast score well on availability, but they are expensive. In the Southwest, where some states are governed by Democrats and some by Republicans, child care is generally affordable, but there isn’t enough of it. Republican-controlled Alabama, Iowa, North Carolina and South Carolina have figured out how to provide high-quality child care at low cost, but their availability is mixed.

Internationally, the link between worker requirements and quality is also tenuous. Denmark and Sweden have among the best child care in the world, yet they require only one certified staff member per kindergarten. Other child-care workers can be uncertified or even unpaid volunteers.

If it’s good enough for Denmark and Sweden, shouldn’t it be good enough for Washington DC?