EEC: Documentary Studies

David Brancaccio reacts to “Through the Night”

David Brancaccio Aug 12, 2021
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If I invited you to watch a documentary about what an economist would view as a “failed market,” maybe you would be interested, maybe you wouldn’t. Let me, therefore, try the pitch in a different way:

Want to see a movie about a pair of heroes fighting against the odds to rescue people? 

That’s one way I view “Through the Night,” about Deloris and Patrick Hogan, who run a child care facility out of their home in New Rochelle, New York. This is not just any place to watch the kids; the Hogans provide the service around the clock. Some of the children sleep there because their parents are working overnight shifts or multiple jobs that stretch late into the night. The kids are fabulous. The mothers are in an impossible jam. The care providers deserve gold medals for surmounting hurdles, sprints and long-distance runs.

If the child care market worked, providers could jack up their prices to cover their rising costs and then some. But many working parents who need child care are already strapped for cash and can’t afford to pay more, sharply limiting providers’ ability to raise prices. Amid pandemic distortions, child care workers are tough to retain or recruit because higher paid job openings in other industries are plentiful. Child care centers may not be able to charge more to pay more. Thus, a failed market.

The Hogans teach, amuse, feed and console their young clients even though the energy and hours required seem beyond unbearable. One lesson from this is the reminder that any system meant to address a need cannot be built on the boundless enthusiasm and nearly infinite energy of superheros like “Nunu” and “Pop Pop,” as the kids call the two principals. They meet a crucial need, but theirs is not a model that seems sustainable. Indeed, as the film shows in a dramatic turn, even if the will is there to solve the problem, the body doesn’t always follow.

If heroic caregivers or economics lessons are not enough to persuade you to sit down with this month’s movie, the children in the film will charm you to pieces. Don’t miss the little girl’s dubious reaction to news there may be worms living in the soil of the vegetable garden she is tending, or the older girl who protests she doesn’t want to grow up because grownups have to worry about paying rent.  

— David

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