On April 18, the Biden administration announced a set of executive orders aimed at mitigating the ongoing crises that have wracked the U.S. child care industry. At first glance, it appeared that President Joe Biden was taking steps toward fulfilling a longtime promise of his campaign and revisiting a priority of his signature (and failed) “Build Back Better” (BBB) initiative. While the press conference made for flattering PR, that was the extent of the orders’ utility: Among the more than 50 decrees, none mandated anything close to transformational changes. Biden’s directives to federal agencies contained a lot of “issuing guidance,” “consider[ing]” and “encouraging.” In other words, they chiefly amounted to nonbinding gestures and tinkering with existing policy.
The most impactful order stipulated increased pay and benefits for Head Start program educators — certainly welcome. But the package was a far cry from the ambitions of BBB or campaign rhetoric. Even the staid and stalwart Associated Press ventured that the orders' “impact would be limited and possess more of a symbolic weight about what’s possible.”
Meanwhile, metrics of child care availability, affordability and quality are plunging. That downward trajectory predates the pandemic — and now that COVID has been (dubiously) declared to no longer be a public health emergency, corporate child care chains are dedicating their considerable resources towards conquering newly vacated markets. As has demonstrably been the case in elder care, education, and more, injecting profit incentives into a social service is poised to more deeply entrench the already chasmic inequality in U.S. child care.
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