When my children were young, I had the luxury of taking a couple of years out of the workforce to stay home with them. That’s right. Staying home with your own children is considered a luxury in America today. And while I cherished spending full days with them, I also had a sense that my nurturing was serving a bigger purpose. My three, young children thrived under the attention my husband and I were able to give them. I could pass down to them many of the traditions my parents had passed to me, including reading classic books to them over afternoon hot chocolate and gingerbread and teaching them how to bake. I could help them with their homework and review flashcards for their multiplication tables. I even had time to volunteer in their school classrooms. To this day, I feel grateful for those years and the fact that I was able to shape them into productive citizens who can give back generously to society. Selfishly, I want them and their generation to reach their full potential so they can adequately fund the social programs my generation depends on: Social Security and Medicare.
So when I waded through President Elect Trump’s tax plan highlights this week, past the parts that called for the repeal of the estate tax which benefits only the top 0.2 percent of taxpayers and the reduction of tax rates for the ultra-rich, I came across a tax deduction that I found provocative in its acknowledgement of the value of stay-at-home parents. The Trump tax plan calls for a deduction that reduces a family’s adjusted gross income for child care expenses, available for up to four children under age 13. The deduction would be capped at the average cost of child care in the state for a child of that age. While our current tax code had deductions for certain child care credits, this child care deduction would apply to both third-party child care facilities and stay-at-home parents or unpaid relatives serving as caretakers. What makes the Trump proposal novel is that families can deduct the cost of childcare from their taxable income, whether the child goes to a daycare facility or is cared for in the home by a parent or other relative.
While this provision in itself may seem regressive in that it helps those in the highest income tax brackets the most, it gives a value for caregiving by family members at home that up until now has not been recognized. This is an important precedent. In its own small way, it gives a message of worth to stay-at-home parents and other caregivers. It also gives more choice to parents and does not try to influence a parent’s decision as to whether to stay home with a child, unlike our current policy which provides the Earned Income Tax Credit for low wage workers with children and dependent tax credits for employees, but nothing for those who choose to take care of their children full-time.
But what really makes the Trump proposal worthy of serious consideration is that it sets the stage for stay-at-home parents to receive other benefits, like the ability to contribute to retirement plans to the same degree an employee can and to pay into a group health insurance plan. This would give dignity and financial security to a segment of the population that has long been overlooked.
Some might consider the Trump childcare provision is a step backward for women, a cynical attempt to marginalize us economically and keep us in the home and out of the workforce. I see it as a recognition that stay-at-home parents and caregivers provide a societal good that should not be at odds with women succeeding in the workforce. It’s a provision that gives the unpaid a modicum of dignity, a good first step.