Immigration, jobs, terrorism, and government-provided health care may have taken front and center on the campaign trail, but with Election Day approaching, polls tightening, and independents mulling over the choices, it’s the sidebar matters like childcare, education, and family leave that could prove the tipping point for many voters.
“The state of America’s children in 2016, especially for children of color, continues to have odds staked against their academic and later economic success,” said Patti Hassler, vice president of outreach and communications for the Children’s Defense Fund. “We believe that this is the greatest threat to our national security and economic future.”
So how do the two main party candidates stack up?
Clinton wants to establish universal preschool for every 4-year-old, provide 12 weeks of government-paid family and medical leave, and double the existing $1,000 child tax credit that families with children aged 4 and younger can legally claim.
She also wants to increase the amount of taxpayer subsidies for families with children to obtain affordable daycare, give pay raises to the nation’s childcare workers, and offer some tax relief to working parents and caretakers based on their childrearing costs.
“Too many workers are not receiving a living wage,” her campaign said in a statement about Clinton’s proposed Respect and Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators (RAISE) plan. “[That] fuels turnover and undermines the quality of care, and also causes many of those caring for and educating our children to live in poverty themselves.”
Trump wants to rewrite the tax code so that working and stay-at-home parents with up to four children can claim a deduction for childcare expenses, and he’d like to create a new Dependent Care Savings Account that allows pretax income to be applied to various child-related expenses, including after-school programs and daycare.
“For low-income individuals, the federal government will provide matching funds,” Trump said in a campaign statement released in September about his tax reform package designed to help with child expenses. “If parents contribute $1,000 dollars, the federal government will provide a $500 dollars’ match. To help low-income families reach these targets and save money, we will put a box on federal income tax forms allowing these parents to have their Earned Income Tax Credit funds directly deposited into their Dependent Care Savings Accounts.”
He also wants to amend unemployment insurance regulations affecting private businesses to guarantee that new mothers receive up to six weeks of paid maternity leave. The Trump plan would only apply to those companies that don’t provide the benefit.
The differences continue in education and early care.
Trump wants to use $20 billion of education dollars to help states expand school choice programs; Clinton wants to send federal dollars to the states in order to implement her universal pre-K plan within the next 10 years.
Clinton envisions government-paid college for students whose families earn less than $85,000 a year, with that threshold to rise to $125,000 by 2021. Trump wants to place caps on student loan payments so that debtors don’t spend more than 12.5 percent of income on paying off what they owe, and for those who pay regularly for 15 years, he’d like to see their balances forgiven.
Trump wants to reduce federal involvement in early childcare programs and instead devolve “regulatory authority to the states,” as he said in a campaign fact sheet on childcare. Clinton would instead double the number of children who receive Early Head State government assistance benefits.
Confused? The snapshots are just that—political wish-lists. As noted by Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, the real test of government programs lies in their cost of implementation and their ability to pass congressional muster. And on that score, he said, neither candidate has been forthcoming.
“I haven’t seen much detail from Trump [or] Hillary Clinton on these education plans, so it’s hard to know how the policies will come out, and then how Congress would shape them,” he said.
A new report from Care.com, “How Child Care Could Swing the Election,” does provide some specifics on at least two child-related matters: maternity leave and daycare.
Currently, the average cost that families pay for full-time childcare is $9,589 a year, or 18 percent of the median household income. For in-home care—the kind provided by a nanny, for example—that median cost rises to $28,353 a year. Care.com’s research shows that under Clinton’s plan individual families would pay a median of $5,348 for both in-home and in-center childcare. By comparison, under Trump’s plan, the median cost for families to provide in-home care would be $26,919 and for in-center care $8,154.
Care.com also found that the Trump and Clinton plans would each allow an additional 2 million mothers to take advantage of paid maternity leave each year.
Also part of the voting decision for some child advocates are topics like gun control, seen as a child safety issue, and abortion, a matter sometimes tied to family planning. On those topics, the viewpoints of Clinton and Trump are as wide apart as can be.
“There’s nothing that Donald Trump offers that we favor, period,” said Jacquelyn Boggess, executive director of the Center for Family Policy and Practice, which takes a more holistic approach to child wellness by advocating for family economies, the environment, and social welfare.
Meanwhile, for McCluskey, the pendulum swings wide in the other direction.
“The policy proposals themselves that are coming from the Trump camp are better,” he said, speaking specifically about the candidates’ education platforms. “Clinton talks about increasing the federal role … but the Constitution is clear. The federal government’s not supposed to be involved in public education.”