Licensing, the Recession, and Day Care With Love
Today’s Post-Dispatch had a front-page story about the economic troubles faced in this recession by day care centers, particularly licensed day care centers. The overall article is good, but it has some issues I will get to in a moment. The article is a million times better than this terrible story in the Chicago Tribune about licensed movers, from earlier this year. The Tribune piece expressed a number of assumptions about the purported benefits of licensing. Today’s Post version bought into some of those same assumptions, but with much less frequency and less defamation of unlicensed providers. Here is how the Post puts it:
Both locally and nationally, operators of licensed and accredited day cares — centers that typically cost more because of their recognized quality standards — are taking hits as financially strapped parents find other options, usually with parents or friends or in smaller, often unlicensed arrangements.
In many places — including traditionally stable suburbs — this means more day care closures and a reduction in quality slots that adhere to regulatory standards and quality curricula.
Sure, the reporter fails to consider whether there is any evidence of the superiority of licensed day care centers, but at least doesn’t refer to the unlicensed neighborhood mom who watches three of her neighbor’s kids during the day as a “fly-by-night” operation, as the Trib would have.
The real issue here is that the licensed day cares charge more, and they are being hit the hardest as families cut back during these tough times. I hope that supporters of stricter day care licensing in Missouri read both the article and this post, so they can see how licensing raises business costs, and how consumers actually react to those price increases. If we impose the day care licensing changes that were considered during the last legislative session, and will almost certainly be brought up again, we will impose a further economic drag on Missouri families. They will then respond just as they have in this article: by using families and neighbors (often under the table) as sources for day care, and, more drastically, cutting back working hours themselves.
I don’t think any of those above options are necessarily bad alternatives to using ordinary paid day care, except for the last one when it is a matter of necessity rather than choice. Obviously, the supporters of licensing do think those options are harmful, or they would not be working hard to regulate the industry further. The state of Missouri should not dictate who families choose to watch their children. A state license is a poor substitute (and it often becomes a substitute) for doing the work necessary to make sure your child is in a safe environment.
Assuming that the day care licensing bill is introduced again, I look forward to being the
children-hating jerk deep thinker who stands up to oppose it. I honestly think this legislation will accomplish nothing but raising costs for Missourians and protecting current day care centers from future competition, which is usually the point of occupational licensure in the first place. (My final caveat is to acknowledge that the supporters of this licensure are genuinely concerned about children, so this is a rare exception to that rule.)