The Biggest Loser of the Presidential Debate? The Childcare Crisis

Getty / Justin Sullivan

When moderator Jake Tapper asked President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump about the childcare crisis during last night’s presidential debate, my ears perked up. As Tapper pointed out, the average cost of childcare now tops $11,000 a year, and for two children, it’s more than what families pay in rent. So, he posed the question: “In your second term, what would you do to make childcare more affordable?”

The answer? A petty argument over who was the “worst president in history.”

Trump began his answer by responding to Biden’s comments from the previous question, explaining why he fired a general, before criticizing Biden for not firing enough people, which ultimately led to the accusation about Biden being the worst president.

Then it was Biden’s turn. Seeing as his 2025 budget proposal included a bold plan for $10-a-day childcare, I was eager to see what he’d say on the debate stage. But he took Trump’s bait, responding, “They’ve had meetings and they voted who’s the worst president in American history . . . They said he was the worst in all of American history.”

Finally, at the end of his response, after criticizing Trump for doing “virtually nothing” for childcare, Biden spent two sentences proposing that the US should increase the childcare tax credit and encourage businesses to have childcare facilities.

In an attempt to return to the issue, Tapper gave Trump one more minute to address the childcare question, but instead the former president used the time to say that he was actually the best in history.

With this kind of exchange, it’s not surprising that these two candidates are the least-liked pair of presidential hopefuls in at least three decades. According to a survey from Pew Research Center earlier this month, a quarter of Americans are “double-haters,” disliking both candidates.

To be fair, there were three other times during the debate that Biden mentioned childcare in passing, listing it as an area where he’d use money from taxes on billionaires, bringing up how he had helped cut childcare costs for Black families, and later returning to the idea of increasing the childcare tax credit. Trump never once said the word “childcare” during the debate.

Rather than spending so much time insulting each other, the pair – and the American people – would have gotten far more out of them actually discussing the issue of childcare in earnest. Last year, the progressive think tank The Century Foundation found that a whopping 70 percent of respondents would be more likely to support a candidate who wanted to expand childcare options for families. And even though something like a $10-a-day program might sound radical, most Americans are here for it: In March, Cornell University’s ILR Buffalo Co-Lab found that 79 percent of New Yorkers surveyed from all political backgrounds even supported making childcare a free service just like K-12 public schools.

Although parents of young children and those looking to start their families are obviously most affected by this issue, the whole economy suffers when it gets ignored. In Cornell’s research, 42 percent of survey respondents with kids said one of the adults in the family had stopped working solely because they couldn’t find or afford childcare. That’s a ton of people leaving the workforce because of this problem. Yet our politicians are too busy slinging insults to do something about it.

Also in Cornell’s analysis: investing $1 billion into childcare could lead to $1.8 billion in increased economic activity. I know many Americans who would take that ROI.

The childcare crisis is only getting worse, thanks to the end of pandemic-era federal funding that supported 220,000 daycare centers across the country. Eleven states and Washington DC have stepped in with their own funding to make up some of the difference. But in other states, the number of households with children under 12 that lack childcare has already increased by 5.3 percentage points since the funding ended last September, according to a May report from the National Women’s Law Center.

Personally, I thought I had it bad, paying more than $30,000 a year to send my daughter to daycare just four days a week – the cheapest option we could find in our neighborhood in Cambridge, MA, if we wanted center-based care. But earlier this year, when I was reporting on the current cost of daycare for PS, I came across some stats from that made me realize just how fortunate I actually was: not only did more than a third of parents in’s survey say they were using their savings to pay for childcare, but 68 percent of those parents only had six months or less left until they had no savings left to do that. That’s a massive number facing a terrible reality. (And people said it was avocado toast that would keep millennials from buying homes.)

Honestly, what’s truly insulting is that our two major presidential candidates would choose to taunt each other rather than address this very real issue that’s putting Americans in debt and costing our entire economy. Earlier this week, my husband and I signed our daughter up for a new childcare center that will save us around $1,000 a year – not a major difference in the grand scheme of things, but not nothing. Like many families, we’re doing anything we reasonably can to keep childcare costs down. What are you going to do, Presidents Trump and Biden?

Related: When You’re Self-Employed, Determining Maternity Leave Is a Double-Edged Sword

Jennifer Heimlich is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in fitness and wellness journalism. She previously worked as the senior fitness editor for Well+Good and the editor in chief of Dance Magazine. A UESCA-certified running coach, she’s written about running and fitness for publications like Shape, GQ, Runner’s World, and The Atlantic.

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