China is on track to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy and by some measures it already is. There’s no one reason why this is the case but it’s impossible for any explanation to ignore the massive investments they are making in education from pre-k to college.
They have doubled their public preschool enrollment over the past decade with 85% of all children now attending. More than 90% of children attend elementary and secondary education, and over half are enrolled in higher learning. While only a sliver of all Chinese students attend four year colleges, in just a matter of three years their numbers will eclipse the U.S. in this critical indicator of economic strength.
“We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century…To win that competition for the future we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families and our children.” These words from President Biden’s State of the Union address are a stark reminder that to maintain our standing in the world, dramatic changes are necessary at home.
Americans are having fewer children (aka future workers) and the leading reason is worry about affordable quality child care. The lack of child care and preschool is wreaking economic havoc.
More than two million women dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic, with a third of them citing child care issues as the reason. The major barrier is the sky-high cost of quality child care. Child care is a family’s single biggest expense after housing.
The median cost of care in Southeast PA for an infant is north of $12,820 and $10,760 for a preschooler. Putting two children in child care would cost a family $23,580 – 40% more than tuition at Temple University.
Where China is investing in preschool for every child, public investment in early learning in PA is so parsimonious that only 40% of eligible children in Southeast PA can get the early learning boost they need.
We lauded President Trump for plowing federal funds into child care. The Biden American Family Plan does that on steroids with a proposed $225 million for child care and $200 million for pre-k. These investments, along with dramatic investments in college access and the Child Tax Credit, make up the lion’s share of the $1.8 trillion economic competitiveness package that, to put it simply, may be our last shot at real economic prosperity.
When President Trump asked Congress to take a leap of faith and enact $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, nearly every Republican lawmaker voted for a plan predicated on inflated economic growth projections to cover the costs. Today they and we know better. The economy stalled and the federal deficit swelled to historic proportions.
In the American Family Plan, the President bit the bullet and included tax increases to fully pay for what is needed to preserve our economic standing and ensure children can inherit a country with a decent quality of life.
There is no mystical thinking needed to vote yes for this plan. All that is needed is for lawmakers to face reality that “trickle down” tax cuts haven’t – and won’t – work. It’s time to adopt funded plans, like this one, that build from the bottom up. Our children and our economy depend on it.