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Of 4 Family Policies in Democrats’ Bill, Which Deserves Priority?

But others said they would rather the money go directly to child care or pre-K because it would help mothers work. “I’m always very sensitive to policies that even unintentionally discourage mothers’ labor force participation,” said Barbara Risman, a sociologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “In the long run, those families will have fewer resources if the mothers have lower earning potentials.”

“It does the most to empower families to do what they think is best for their families.” — H. Luke Shaefer, professor of social justice and social policy, University of Michigan

“We have pretty unambiguous evidence that more financial resources for families with young kids has important and lasting impacts.” — Maya Rossin-Slater, associate professor of health policy and economics, Stanford

“The money can be spent on anything, not just child care, and it will cover children older than the usual age at which child care is used.” — Claudia Goldin, professor of economics, Harvard

“It can reduce child poverty right now, is likely to improve mobility over the long term, and it is unlikely to decrease mothers’ employment.” — Joanna Pepin, assistant professor of sociology, University at Buffalo

“Families are getting it now, and what a shame it would be to take it away.” — Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work, Columbia

Three of the experts chose this as the most important. The plan being considered would make child care free for the lowest earners. And it would cost no more than 7 percent of earnings for others, up to a certain income.

“It would likely pull more women in the work force, so the overall gains to the family would be more than just the reduced cost of child care,” said Jill Yavorsky, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

It would help close racial gaps, too, since Black and Hispanic women have disproportionately become unemployed during the pandemic, said Fatima Suarez, a sociologist at Stanford. “Child care subsidies is not just a family issue, but an issue of race, class and gender equity,” she said.

Others said subsidies alone would not do enough to address other issues with child care, like unavailability, low pay for providers and varying levels of quality. And some preferred a universal benefit rather than a means-tested one — it would make the program more popular and improve quality, they said, and child care is unaffordable for many middle-class families.

“It would offer the greatest benefit to mothers who do not make enough income to cover the costs of child care.” — Jill Yavorsky, assistant professor of sociology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

“Essential workers are disproportionately women of color, and they do not earn nearly enough to be able to survive, let alone pay for child care.” — Fatima Suarez, postdoctoral research fellow, Stanford

“I’m weighing what would help the largest number of families for the longest time span with the maximum money in parents’ pockets.” — Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology, Washington University in St. Louis

The United States is the only rich country without a federal mandate to offer paid leave for new parents or for medical emergencies. The Democrats’ plan would give American workers up to 12 weeks. Research has shown that this would particularly benefit the lowest earners and people in unstable jobs, who now risk falling into poverty if they have a caregiving need or illness.

“It provides a necessary safety net for lower-income families when they are going through major life events,” said Youngjoo Cha, a sociologist at Indiana University Bloomington. “It has a strong implication for gender equality at work and at home. It will generate a long-lasting effect of equalizing gender division of work at home as well.”