It's Going To Be Hard Enough To Get Kids Back to Day Care After COVID-19

The pandemic has exposed many of America’s destructive barriers to work. It’s time to eliminate them.


As Americans emerge from their homes and try to return to some semblance of normal life, we have a small window of time to remove regulations that are nuisances in the best of times and deeply damaging in the worst.

We can start with child care. As parents begin to return to work, their old day care options are disappearing. The Washington Post reports that "one-third to half of child-care centers may not reopen at all." It adds that even the surviving centers may operate at limited capacity for a time.

Those restrictions on supply will surely raise the cost of child care, exacerbating trends that were already underway before the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2018, a study from the Economic Policy Institute put the average cost of day care in D.C. at $24,243 per infant each year. Despite those already staggering numbers, the nation's capital decided to require college degrees for day care workers, increasing costs further. Those considering more informal arrangements had to tread carefully: D.C. has been known to crack down on large, semi-formal playdate groups.

Day care regulations don't always make sense. It's crucial to keep kids safe, of course, but some jurisdictions impose rules that have little or no rational connection to safety. Wisconsin, for example, imposes more than 400 requirements on licensed family child care providers, some of them as trivial as ensuring children not use "trampolines and inflatable bounce surfaces." Oklahoma's mandates specify the number of puppets that must be available per child. Is it any wonder that the number of small family child care providers declined by 35 percent from 2011 to 2017? Such vague and strange regulations hardly make the trade enticing, especially when child care providers already earn so little.

Senseless regulations can reach even further into home-based businesses, preventing people from working from home even when doing so has no impact on the neighborhood. The most absurd case might be the Georgia blogger who was shut down for uploading YouTube videos from his house, but there are plenty of other examples. Many localities prevent salons from operating out of their homes, while many state licensing laws prevent cosmetologists from practicing in the client's home (or almost anywhere outside of a salon). This may have made sense during the coronavirus lockdowns, but as businesses reopen it makes no sense to maintain such rules. Indeed, allowing more people to work from home will give businesses and workers more flexibility during the reopening—and will be valuable for the many people who continue to socially distance themselves for health reasons.

Regulations also make it harder to help the homeless and needy. Several years ago, Arizona's cosmetology board cracked down on a cosmetology student for cutting hair for the homeless without a license, until Gov. Doug Ducey stepped in to protect him. Even food donations to the homeless have been banned in some places; at other times, food provided by volunteers has been destroyed. Meanwhile, food banks across the nation are struggling.

One bright spot is MUST Ministries, a charity in Georgia that provides lunch for children during summer breaks. In summer 2018 alone, MUST fed over 250,000 hungry children. Despite this wonderful work, in 2019 health officials forced them to overhaul their procedures because it was being done in homes and churches instead of certified kitchens. MUST adjusted as well as it could, and earlier this year it partnered with the Cobb County School District to feed students in need. The original crackdown was needless, but when Georgia came asking for help in the early days of the pandemic, MUST stepped up.

The pandemic has exposed many of America's destructive barriers to work. At a time when tens of millions of Americans are newly unemployed or otherwise struggling, regulatory reform is vital.