Not long after the 2016 election, Shelby McGowan got a somber phone call from her brother.
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
She replied: “About what?”
“About your childcare expenses.”
Just a few weeks earlier, Washington state voters had approved a statewide ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 over four years. The measure was supported by voters who pictured a better quality of life for thousands of retail and food service workers. But few considered the economics of the daycare industry, which pays some of the lowest wages of any industry. Tuition at Advent Lutheran Child Center, the Spokane Valley daycare center where McGowan’s two children were enrolled, was about to go up by as much as $300 a month per family.
And just like that, the entire state became the laboratory for a real-time experiment in the consequences of rising daycare costs. Washington state is a dramatic case, but not a total outlier.