On Thursday, May 30, Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign released a calculator built to allow parents to tabulate just how much money they would save under the Massachusetts senator’s proposed Universal Child Care and Early Learning Plan. The calculator — and the plan itself — shows just how much Warren has been focusing on courting parents as a potentially powerful voting bloc. This political gambit is unusual despite the roughly 50 million voters with children under 18 (not to mention those children’s eager grandparents) and profoundly refreshing, especially as the costs associated with raising children skyrocket.
If Warren’s plans and the parenting savings they propose seem radical, it’s only because of historical context. For the past half century, American politicians have invested in almost everything but American families. A decade ago, when the federal government was spending considerably more on family programs, public investment in American families peaked out at roughly 3 percent of the GDP. That same year, Sweden devoted roughly 25 percent of GDP to family programs. And it’s unlikely that, without substantive political change, the trend will reverse. Over the next few decades, 150 percent of federal funding is already committed to Social Security and Medicaid. That’s not bad. But children are being squeezed out by the aged.
While American politicians on both the right and left (the right a bit more than the left, if we’re to be honest) tout family values, they slash family programs. Trump and the Republican Party have launched assaults on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (which insures 11 million kids), and Women, Infants and Children (which provides supplemental federal assistance to about 10 million low-income moms by way of nutrition assistance, breastfeeding instruction, health care referrals, and supplemental foods). Even under Obama, investment in these programs was not sky-high: In 2016, just $4.6 billion of the annually appropriated budget was spent on WIC alone. That’s not much — though Trump has proposed cutting WIC by $2.5 billion, kicking almost half of a million low-income moms off the program.
The poorest of the poor parents in America receive about $3,000 in annual assistance from the federal government, which is absolutely paltry compared to what’s on offer in other countries and compared to what candidate Warren is proposing. Warren claims that she can save parents making an annual combined salary of $125,000, and raising two children, $12,000 dollars a year — on child care alone. She claims she could save a couple making a combined $75,000 a year more than $100,000 over the course of their kids’ childhood. It’s a lot.
Warren’s plan is ambitious but in line with similar parental subsidies in developed countries. As part of her Universal Child Care and Early Learning program, she’s calling for increased federal funding and partnerships with state and local day care centers and in-home day care. Under the plan, American parents would not pay more than 7 percent of their annual income on child care. In a day and age where many American parents pay up to a third of their annual combined income on child care, sometimes upward of $25,000 dollars a year, this plan would be enormously beneficial to middle-class parents. The plan would be paid for by a tax on the ultra-wealthy — the 75,000 Americans who have a net worth of $50 million or more. That tax could generate $1.75 trillion in tax revenue, financing the child care plan alone four times over.
But that’s not all. Warren also released a plan to cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of borrowers, and would entirely cancel student loan debt for more than 75 percent of American students. According to LendEDU, 90 percent of student loans taken out for private colleges are co-signed by parents. A survey by Lend showed that half of parents worry about their retirement due to the co-signed student loans. Four in 10 American student loan borrowers will default on their loans by 2023. Altogether, some $1.5 trillion is owed in student loan debt, and is the second highest consumer debt category, according to Forbes, second only to mortgages. If avoided, the spending capacity of Americans reaching their 20s and Americans nearing retirement would skyrocket. Millennials would have more kids, buy homes, and get married.
Warren has also proposed a plan to lower the cost of one of the biggest expenses of American families: housing. The average American currently needs to make three times the minimum wage in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment, at a time when federal investment in homes is decreasing. Warren would add $500 billion to the housing coffers over the next 10 years to build and preserve homes for lower-income families. Warren claims the plan would create 1.5 million new jobs. Where does the money come from? Warren proposes lowering the inheritance tax threshold from $22 million to $7 million. That tax plan would affect the 14,000 richest American families in the country.
These plans suggest that Warren has a focus: Getting parents to vote as parents. Few middle-class parents can afford to ignore how much easier their lives would be if they got $12,000 back on child care payments a year. Few parents can balk at the idea of investment in the struggling middle class. Warren seems to know this and to have staked her campaign on the idea that parents could become a viable voting bloc. Her campaign announcement and rhetoric has returned to her experiences as a struggling mother juggling law school, work, and babies.
As it stands, Warren’s poll numbers seem to rise with each new plan she proposes: Just last week, a Quinnipac Poll showed her ranking third in the crowded Democratic field, polling at 13 percent favorability, a huge jump from her 4 percent rating in March. Still, she remains 3 percentage points behind Bernie Sanders and many more behind Joe Biden. If Warren continues to climb it will be on the strength of her proposals and will strongly indicate that American parents are looking for someone to campaign on their behalf.