The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most Americans want Congress to support child care and elder care, our research finds — even many Republicans

Will Congressional Republicans listen?

A baby plays with toys at a day-care center in Monahans, Tex., on Aug. 21, 2018. (Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg)

President Biden on Thursday announced the latest compromise package agreed on with members of Congress for the domestic policy investments bill, commonly called “Build Back Better.” Despite cuts, the bill could still include a historic investment in family caregivers — individuals who regularly care for others. Our research finds that Americans broadly support investment in care infrastructure, despite the current U.S. climate of high partisan polarization — putting Republican lawmakers’ opposition to such policies at odds not just with Americans generally but even, at times, with their own voters.

How caregiving has fared

The caregiving policies are part of a broader reconciliation package with a range of provisions — from lowering drug costs to tackling the climate crisis. Key caregiving components originally included paid family leave, funding to decrease the overall costs of child care through expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, higher wages for home care and child-care workers, and expanding community and home-based care for seniors and people with disabilities. These provisions would all help family caregivers, who face a range of challenges as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. Deliberations are ongoing; it looks as though paid leave has been cut but the fate of other provisions is in flux.

Why it matters

Women typically handle most family care, whether that’s for children, elders, or ill or disabled relatives. Those burdens got much worse during the covid-19 pandemic, as many women — women of color especially — often had to choose between working and caring for others, a decision that often had devastating economic consequences. Some economists argue that the United States’ lack of care infrastructure puts it at a competitive disadvantage for economic stability and growth.

Congress passed a stopgap spending bill. That will cost taxpayers.

Who supports it

To find out what Americans think about caregiving policies, some of which are still included in the bill, we fielded an online poll with 2,000 respondents with YouGov in July 2021. The respondent group was drawn to be nationally representative of four racial/ethnic groups in the United States: Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and non-Hispanic Whites. As have other national surveys, ours found more support for than opposition to the Democrats’ goals of expanding social supports generally. However, our survey also tells us more about particular support for some of caregiving policies potentially in the bill.

Here’s what we found.

Support for child care and children.

Americans widely support policies aimed at helping children. For instance, 84 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents and 53.7 percent of Republicans agree that the government should fund summer meals and should expand school lunch programs. When asked whether the federal government should help fund upgrading child-care facilities and expanding them to areas of need, we found support from 81.5 percent of Democrats, 58.6 percent of independents and 43.8 percent of Republicans.

Over three-quarters of Democrats and just over half of independents agree that early child-care workers’ wages should be increased, and around 40 percent of Republicans agree — a sizable chunk. And these policies are widely supported by both women and men.

Support among communities of color.

Over 70 percent of Asian Americans and Black Americans and over 65 percent of Latinos support policies that would increase wages for early child-care workers. While overall, more than 55 percent of respondents think the federal government should require employers to offer paid leave for workers who need to care for family or have medical needs themselves, that support jumps over 60 percent among Asian Americans, Black Americans and Latinos.

Latina and Black women lost jobs in record numbers during the pandemic. Policies designed for 'all women' don't necessarily help.

Support for elder care.

Care for older adults also enjoys considerable support across racial, ethnic and party lines. We asked if policies should be designed to help families afford elder care or whether “helping people afford the cost of elder care is not the role of government.” Fully 73 percent of all respondents think the government should help families care for elders, support that crosses party lines, with 90 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of independents. Support for increasing home health-care workers’ wages is lower but still noteworthy; 60 percent of respondents support this policy, including 81 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of Republicans, and 54 percent of independents.

That support goes even higher among communities of color. Fully 80 percent of African Americans and Asian Americans and 75 percent of Latinos support helping families pay for elder care; over 60 percent of all three groups favor increasing the wages of home health-care workers.

What this all means

Currently, all Republican members of Congress say they oppose the Build Back Better bill — including family-care provisions. But notable proportions of Republican voters are in favor of government support for caregiving, while Democrats, independents, and people of color do so at much higher rates. How this legislation turns out matters both for its effect on families — and for Americans’ understanding of whether their elected officials actually represent them.

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Jennifer Merolla (@MerollaJenn) is a professor of political science at the University of California Riverside.

Rachel VanSickle-Ward is a professor of political studies at Pitzer College.

Ivy A.M. Cargile is an associate professor of political science at California State University at Bakersfield.

Jill S. Greenlee is an associate professor in politics and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University.

Sarah Hayes is a graduate student in political science at Georgetown University.

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