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What Clinton’s and Trump’s child-care plans mean for parents

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Getty Images, Reuters)
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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have pledged to revolutionize American child care as president — an unusual political development, even for this convention-shattering election year. The left has historically dominated that conversation, and now Trump is trying to own it.

Clinton, the Democratic candidate, aims to expand cash-strapped public child-care programs for low-income parents. Trump, on the Republican side, wants to ease America's child-rearing burden by changing the tax code and revamping unemployment insurance programs.

The proposals on the surface seem wildly different. But they share a core quality: They both ask voters to believe
the economy will prosper, and the resulting growth will cover the fat bill.

Our simple calculator lets you figure out how much having a child affects your salary

The GOP contender, who announced his plan this week, wants to let parents deduct from their income taxes child-care expenses for up to four kids. The total deduction would be capped at the average cost of care in their state, which ranges from roughly $5,500 annually for infants in Alabama to nearly $22,000 in Washington, D.C. Parents who make more than $250,000 individually or $500,000 together would not be eligible for the break.

For instance, a family making the national average of about $70,000 each year with a $7,000 child-care burden would annually save $840, according to the campaign website.

Clinton, who announced her plan four months ago, has promised to reform the child-care system so no family will spend more than 10 percent of household income on child care. If she reached that goal, that same family would pay no more than $7,000 a year under a Clinton presidency.

But it's not clear how Clinton would revamp the child-care system to achieve such significant cost reductions. She has said she will implement a mix of subsidies and tax credits — a big public investment, aides say, to the tune of approximately $200 billion — but has not specified their value or who would receive them.

Her campaign has said it will release details later this year.

For parents barely squeaking by, Trump proposes creating child-care spending rebates through the current Earned Income Tax Credit — an addition of up to $1,200 annually per family. He'd also set up tax-free savings accounts for parents to stash money.

Clinton, on the other hand, would help low-income parents by pouring more funding into state-run programs that help them pay for child-care services and stay in the labor force, aides said. The latest Census Bureau data found that 10 percent of preschoolers in a 2011 survey of employed mothers fell into the "self care" category, meaning the only supervision they received was at school.

She has also proposed making preschool universal for every 4-year-old, opening federal money for a new program that would aim to boost wages for child-care workers, double the country's investment in Early Head Start and other early childhood programs, and start a scholarship plan for college students with kids.

Both campaigns lack precise details on how they would fund their plans. They say improved access to child care ultimately pays for itself, developing healthier and well-educated young people who are better prepared for the labor force.

In an interview on NPR Wednesday, conservative policy analyst Stephen Moore, one of Trump's advisers, said economic growth under the Republican candidate's tax plan would offset the cost.

"You get a lot of additional revenue when you put people back to work," he said.

Maternity leave

Both Trump's and Clinton's plans guarantee some degree of paid family leave, overhauling the current rule that President Bill Clinton established in 1993, which gives new parents up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off — none of it paid.

Trump's proposal would cover up to six weeks of paid maternity leave. (Fathers would not be eligible, even in same-sex households.) He would fund it by tweaking the unemployment insurance program, which currently supplies benefits to Americans who lose their job through no fault of their own. Trump has not specified how much of an employee's wages would be covered.

The problem with Donald Trump’s plan for child care

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, head of the right-leaning think tank American Action Forum, told CNN he fears this measure would encourage employers to ditch their own paid maternity leave policies, redistributing the burden to the taxpayer.

Trump insists taxpayers wouldn't take a hit from the roughly $2.5 billion plan because he would fund it by eliminating unemployment insurance tax fraud, which amounts to an estimated $3.4 billion annually. Trump didn't specify how he would target cases of fraud, and Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation, noted that Congress has already passed laws to cut down on unemployment fraud.

Trump said his child-care plan came from his eldest daughter, Ivanka. Just as he and Stephen Moore, one of his economic advisers, were putting the final touches on his tax plan earlier this year, the mother of three — a high-ranking executive at the Trump Organization — urged them to add help for working moms.

In a Wednesday interview with NPR’s On Point, Moore, who works for the Heritage Foundation, said he and Trump realized how expensive child care was after Ivanka brought it up.

“Ivanka Trump came in and said, 'Look, we have to do something for working women,' ” Moore said. “It’s funny because, I’m a guy, I don’t pay the child-care expenses, and it takes a woman to know the quirks of this issue.” (Ivanka, executive vice president of development and acquisitions at her father’s company, told the New York Times she took off eight days after the 2011 birth of her first child, Arabella.)

Trump has struggled to win over half the nation's voters. A Washington Post-ABC News survey this summer found 77 percent of women had an unfavorable impression of Trump, including 65 percent who viewed him in a “strongly unfavorable” light. His negative ratings among women are more than 20 percentage points higher than the ratings Mitt Romney received at any point in his 2012 campaign.

Clinton's paid family leave proposal would extend the benefit to all new parents, female and male, for 12 weeks at two-thirds of their wages. She has said she would pay for it with tax hikes on the rich, or as the Clinton campaign put it, making sure higher-earners are "paying their fair share."

Detractors point out that government-funded day care doesn't always improve outcomes for kids. A 2015 study found that while a similar Canadian program lifted poor children, their middle-income peers exhibited worse health down the road.

Like Trump, Clinton says it will all eventually pay for itself. She asserts increased labor force attachment and improved children’s health would boost the economy. She also says kids who receive steady care perform better in school and are less likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

More from Wonkblog:

Many parents will say kids made them happier. They're probably lying.

Half of America's child-care workers need food stamps, welfare payments or Medicaid

The remarkable thing that happens to poor kids when you give their parents a little money

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez believes a federal paid family leave policy is possible, despite a partisan divide on the issue. (Video: Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)