The Coolest Child Care Program You’ve Never Heard Of

(Photo: familymwr)

(Photo: familymwr)

During World War II, U.S. women entered the workforce in record numbers — factories full of “Rosie the Riveters” producing planes and munitions for the war effort.  In response, Congress passed the Lanham Act of 1940, which administered and subsidized a large childcare system in 635 communities in the whole country except New Mexico from 1943-1946.  A new paper by Chris Herbst examines the effects of the Lanham Act; his research is particularly relevant in light of President Barack Obama‘s push for universal preschool.  “What’s intriguing about the Lanham Act is that it’s the U.S.’s first, and only, laboratory within which to assess universal child care,” writes Herbst in an email about the paper. “It may just be the coolest child care program you’ve never heard of.”  Here’s the abstract:

This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the Lanham Act of 1940, a heavily-subsidized and universal child care program that was administered throughout the U.S. during World War II. I begin by estimating the impact of the Lanham Act on maternal employment using 1940 and 1950 Census data in a difference-in-difference-in-differences framework. The evidence suggests that mothers’ paid work increased substantially following the introduction of the child care program. I then study the implications of the Lanham Act for children’s long-run outcomes related to educational attainment, family formation, and labor market participation. Using Census data from 1970 to 1990, I assess well-being in a lifecycle framework by tracking cohorts of treated individuals throughout their prime working years. Results from difference-in-differences models suggest that the Lanham Act had strong and persistent positive effects on well-being, equivalent to a 0.36 standard deviation increase in a summary index of adult outcomes. In addition, a supplementary analysis of distributional effects shows that the benefits of the Lanham Act accrued largely to the most economically disadvantaged adults. Together, these findings shed light on the design of contemporary child care systems that balance the twin goals of increasing parental employment and enhancing child well-being.

And here‘s a recent presentation Herbst gave on the paper.


I will answer Phil's closing question:
--So here’s another absurd argument: would you rather have decent universal day-care/pre-K or would you rather have 4-year-olds home alone playing with matches?

I think to make an informed decision, a total cost analysis would need to be made, and a full accounting of the related costs and impacts to

- net increase in taxes/debt required to fund
- net cost of the reduction of two parent families caused by couples no longer needing each others support
- net cost of to the system of increased demand for services by people who pay no net taxes or earn their living on the black market.
- net new jobs ands business out put reduced by additional taxes to pay for such a program
- 10 fold increase in costs to provide than promised as is typical in any gov't program in the US.
- cost of failure and waste. Gov't funded schools fail to adequately prepare students for college. What gives you any confidence that government is the best party to handle education?
- loss of competitiveness international business caused by excessive tax burden as we incrementally increase the welfare state.
- redundancy tax of having two systems one for the poor paid for by the working class via taxes. And another vastly more successful program for those who do not want their children to contract TB at a gov't pre-school or day care.
- cost future care mental illnesses from mothers no longer bonding with their children during the day at such a critical age.

NZ I thumbed up every post you made. As to why you got such negative comments I think it is just that so many visitors to this page are students and approach things from a purely academic approach without any real life experience to put behind it. I have worked in both business and academia. By far the vast majority of insane people with important positions were employed in the latter.



To wit I leave you with a quote of George Carlin:
" You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"


I didn't check them all, but blue state daycare seems to be at least twice as expensive as red state daycare. Maybe if blue states taxed their own citizens to provide statewide daycare their would be less acrommony then with attempting a national system. A national system would appear to require red states subsidize blue states. After all, their are already several state systems such as in Oklahoma. What is wrong with more of these state based approaches if people want government daycare? Or are you going to tell me it is vitally important every four year old uses the same nationally approved coloring book.

Phil Persinger


Try this link--

The picture ain't pretty…


Yup. pretty much confirms what I said before. One example from your paper,

"The average annual cost for two children (an infant and
a 4-year-old) in a child care center ranged from $9,175
in Mississippi to $28,606 in Massachusetts"

For some reason, infants cost much more.

But as I said, blue states are much more expensive then red states. In such a case, a state paying its own way would seem the most politically practical scenario. Of course, I guess for a Blue state the opposite is true, where someone else paying the bills is preferable. Still, hash it out in Congress and see how red states feel about subsidizing blue states.


When did a 0.36 standard deviation results start being newsworthy? Almost 70% of results will fall within one standard deviation of the actual value by chance. This guy's "strong and persistent positive effects" are completely consistent with no effect.