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Cost of a child

2001-06-12 20:55:12+00 by Dan Lyke 59 comments

So the USDA estimates the cost of raising a child born in 2000 at $165,630. But this is just cost to the parent, so (extremely) optimistically, at $6k/year for school funding taxpayers are covering at least a third of the cost of raising that child to 18. Huh. Nope, no subsidization of population growth going on here... It's also interesting to compare that press release with Salon's AP wire feed version.

[ related topics: Politics Child-Freedom ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:48+00 by: sethg

The $165K figure is slightly misleading, since you don't have to pay that all at once; the cost of future years' childrearing can be invested until it needs to be spent. The proper way to aggregate the costs over 17 years is by using net present value, i.e., by asking: "If I bought an annuity that would pay back the cost of raising my child each year (according to the USDA figures), how much would I pay?"

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:48+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, but if you account for that you also have to adjust for inflation (which the report also has projected numbers for).

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:49+00 by: pharm

Is this figure the direct cost of child raising, or does it include the opportunity cost due to lost income?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:49+00 by: Dan Lyke

Boy, going down that[Wiki] path starts to pour salt in some real wounds, especially once you start trying to account for the times that, hypothetically, a parent might take off early for a soccer game while the child-free work later...

Which is why I tried to do back-of-the-envelope with known costs.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:49+00 by: sethg

Dan: Yes, if you use present value you have to account for inflation, but if you buy an annuity that pays out over 17 years, you can keep at least a few points ahead of inflation.

pharm: I looked at the complete report -- they said they're using direct cost. Other researchers have tried to figure out the opportunity cost, but it's not clear which methodology for doing so is best, so the USDA folks decided not to try.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:49+00 by: Larry Burton

This caught my eye:

Housing cost was the single largest expenditure on a child in 2000, averaging 33 percent of the total costs over 17 years, compared with 32 percent in 1960.

Now maybe it comes from being raised in a 900 ft2 house and the fact that I live in an area where a very nice house can be had for $100k but 33% of the $165k looks to me like it would buy the child half a house.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:49+00 by: sethg

The report gives different tables for urban (in various parts of the country) and rural families.

In the urban Northeast, I don't think you could get a house[Wiki] for less than $100K. In Boston itself, $100K might get you a studio condominium in a neighborhood with hot and cold running crack.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:49+00 by: Dan Lyke

Larry, I'm not completely coherent this morning, late night last night and up early working this, but if you use the back of the envelope $700/month per $100k for mortgage cost, that $54,450 over the 84 months will buy you about $38k worth of housing, right? (Seems high, but we'll run with it...).

Now where you live that's probably a reasonable cost for a bedroom plus extra living facilities (if we're going to continue this discussion I need to go get the PDF and start doing breakdowns by geographical region, although since school costs are relatively constant by region that'll only make my original piont stronger), out here that'll buy a bathroom. Linoleum, tile would be extra.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:49+00 by: Larry Burton

I guess my point is that 33% of that costs varies dramatically from region to region so you are going to see the cost of raising a kid vary dramatically from region to region. At this point, what good is the average?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Dan Lyke

What I see that for is a starting point next time someone asks for more benefits for parents (family leave vs personal time, etc). With that number I can say "On average, the general population is aleady paying for a third of what's essentially a lifestyle choice. Now piss off about that whole 'parents are put-upon' thing."

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Larry Burton

But the general population isn't paying that number or a third of that number, the parents are. Now I know that the general population is paying a portion of that cost for some parents through welfare, but you'd be be paying something for those same folks regardless of whether they were parents or not.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Dan Lyke

No, I use the 1/3 number because the general population is paying another $80k on top of that for the child's education.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Pete

Dan, you benefit from living amongst an educated populace. Immensely.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Larry Burton

And that child will most likely be paying it back in taxes. That is a benefit to the child and the rest of our society, not specifically to the parents.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: topspin

Larry, "paying it back in taxes" does not wash. I will continue paying taxes too. The child doesn't pay one damn thing back to me and doesn't reduce my tax burden.

An individual's education is NOT a right. It's not like a public road or streetlights or various other public works which I gladly share with the population. An individual's education primarily benefits the individual, therefore it should be primarily paid for by the individual.

Let me put it this way, I'd be a happier, more content, more financially successful citizen if the govt paid 1/3 of my housing costs for 18 years, but that's ridiculous..... isn't it? My housing benefits me primarily, but it keeps me off the street, outta the shelters, and arguably makes me a more productive citizen. I have no kids, so fork over the 80k for my housing, okay?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Pete

Educating a child does reduce your tax burden by making it less likely they will be dependent upon welfare and other forms of government assistance throughout their adult lives, or, more ominously, that you will have to pay to incarcerate them.

And they do directly pay you; where do you think Social Security comes from? You think what you pay sits in a coffee can until you start pulling it out? It goes to people drawing checks now, and when you draw checks it will be coming straight from people paying in at that time.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Dan Lyke

Ya know, the EPA Superfund project also does a lot to help me. That doesn't mean that I propose any less harsh penalties when we catch the polluters. Paying for education is much the same.

On the economic benefits of children, look at the plot of housing costs versus the plot of economic growth versus population growth. Then tell me, with a straight face, about how the population growth is helping me?

As for Social Security, that's a big Ponzi and wealth redistribution scheme, and looking at the economics of it, for someone with my income expectations it's just more income tax. I'm not privy to topspin's financials, but at a rough guess he'll have similar issues to mine.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Pete

Dan, a literate and educated populace is what creates demand for your information economy skills. Your livelyhood depends upon the presence of an educated populace.

SS: Ponzi scheme or not, that's how it works. You're SS checks will come from those you'd rather not educate.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: Larry Burton

>> The child doesn't pay one damn thing back to me and doesn't reduce my tax burden. <<

Topspin, are you going to tell me that you did not benefit from a public education? It isn't my kid's education that you are paying for now, it's a payback for your own education. That payback allows the local government to continue to educate their citizens in order for them to be in a better position to pay back for their education that pays ahead for the next generation.

Yeah, it's a kind of a Ponzi scheme, but one that gives you the benefit before you pay for it.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:50+00 by: topspin

Larry, you make public education sound like Christianity with your argument that I must participate because I'm already involved. I reject being responsible for my public education: I didn't ask to get into this game and looking cognizantly at public education, I reject the fairness and viability. While I won't deny that I benefited from public school, my parents and truancy laws were responsible for my enrollment, not me.

Here's the unfairness and the problem with govt's attitude toward kids:
The govt gives educational (public education thru Pell Grants, etc) and tax perks to families even if having more kids is economically unsound. I am not so lucky. If I decide to take on an untenable 200-500k long-term financial burden that isn't a kid, the govt won't back me up. I would be deemed "financially irresponsible" in bankruptcy court and be fiscally ruined, while folks raising kids are given tax breaks and subsidies for their increased financial burden regardless of how financially irresponsible their decision to have a child might have been. I assert that if the parents of a child ignored the long-term financial responsibilites involved in raising a child, the parents should suffer bankruptcy just like me. That's not unreasonable, that's fair.

#Comment made: 2001-06-16 23:56:33+00 by: Pete [edit history]

I've just finished a day of looking at 200-500k long term financial burdens not involving children. Guess what? The government really wants to back me up. Home buying is also subsidized by the government. Why? Because home ownership, much like educating a child, has significant societal benefits beyond the individual in question. Home owners are more likely to take care of their homes, to take an interest in their communities, and to be active improving their surroundings. Because these benefits spread to those around them, the government encourages these activities by subsidizing them.

Just like educating a child.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: topspin

Pete, the govt wants to back you up with a housing loan (actually, if it's a Fannie Mae, it's not really the govt) because you qualify financially. It's not the same because anyone, regardless of fiscal responsibility, can have a child and receive a subsidy. If you have no money and no job, it'll be tough to qualify for a subsidized home loan. If you have no money and no job, there's PLENTY of govt money for your child.

Lemme know what happens after you get your house if you can't make the house payments.... the govt won't step in, pay your payments, and prevent foreclosure, but if folks can't afford to educate or raise a child, the govt will step in and take care of the child's education, health care, etc.

Apples and Oranges. Both are fruity notions, but not the same.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: Pete

You're still several steps away from the whole truth. It's much more than just Fannie Mae. There are the huge tax advantages of home ownership. There are the HUD programs to create homeowners. There are the VBA programs to encourage home ownership.

Where else is the VBA echoed? In the GI bill to subsidize education.

Really, this stuff shouldn't be news.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: Larry Burton

>> While I won't deny that I benefited from public school, my parents and truancy laws were responsible for my enrollment, not me. <<

And of course you entered the field you are in self-trained without the aid of your voluntary enrollment, after the age of eighteen, in any state supported institue of higher learning. Give me a break, Topspin, of course your parents were responsible for your enrollment because it was to your benefit. Children don't always do the things that they will benefit from voluntarily. That's why parents are responsible for them until an arbitrary age that we think a child should now want to do what is in its best interest.

That's why you voluntarily entered a state supported university when you were eighteen. You grew up to know what was in your best interest, which was to continue with your schooling. Now you begrudge paying back into the system that educated you?

>> The govt gives educational (public education thru Pell Grants, etc) and tax perks to families even if having more kids is economically unsound. <<

What do you suggest instead? Forced abortions? Once these little parasites are born they become US citizens and the US has an interest in providing for their welfare. By educating them they increase the odds that they will add something to society rather than place a burden on society.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: topspin

It's not news, Pete. They are treated differently by the govt.

Default on a Fannie Mae, VBA, or HUD loan and you will be foreclosed and your credit record will show you defaulted the loan. The govt might pay the default for you, but your credit record will suffer and your eligibility for those loans will likely be cut off at least until you repay.

Default on your ability to provide for your kids or be financially unable when you conceive the kid and the govt will provide health care, education, etc. but your credit record won't show you've defaulted. As a matter of fact, it's against the law to deny credit to someone just because they are on public assistance. (The largest chunk of public assistance is AFDC.... Aid to Families with Dependent Children.) Already got a coupla kids on AFDC benefits and want another child? No problem.... have another kid on the taxpayer's tab AND go ahead and apply for that VISA Gold since the increase in benefits increases your income.

Clearly the govt allows (some would say encourages) individuals to be very fiscally irresponsible when it comes to providing for their kids, but not when it comes to buying a home.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: Pete

Now I wonder about your motivation in this exchange, topspin, since I can't believe that you honestly think I'm saying child rearing and credit worthiness are linked in the government's eyes. That's what we call a strawman. But I'll play along for the moment and explain it to you.

The topic of discussion is whether or not government subsidizing of education benefits those without children. I contend that it does because everyone, in some combination, form or degree, was educated by subsidized schools or interacts with those that were.

To further illustrate the point and directly refute your claim that the government does not aid those embarking on other expensive enterprises that can produce a benefit to society but primarily benefits the individual, I've highlighted the government-created financial incentives to homeownership as an illustration of yet another way in which that expensive activties are subsidized because the activities produce benefits to society.

The people that shape our government see the benefits to society at large of having an educated populace, so they subsidize education.

The people that shape our government see the benefits to society at large of having people own their homes, so they subsidize home ownership.

Given these facts, there is no room to argue that subsidized education has a unique status as something that primarily benefits one person yet is subsidized for the good of the whole populace. It seems to fall under the rubric of things that "promote the general welfare." Hopefully that rings a bell, too.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: topspin

Pete, I'm coming at this discussion from the point-of-view that folks should be primarily responsible for their decisions in life and that govt's mandate to "promote the general welfare" means promoting responsibility. My basic premise underlying all my comments is: What promotes the general welfare of the nation is fostering individual responsibility, not governmental responsibility.

If folks choose to have kids, they should be prepared for the financial responsibilities of raising those kids. Parenting is NOT a right; it's a responsibility. When govt removes the link between fiscal responsibility and the choice to parent, I submit the govt harms society.

My parallel of subsidized homeownership and education was drawn to show that the govt doesn't unconditionally support home ownership. One can default on a govt subsidized home and lose the home. On the other hand, the govt supports families who deliberately have children they cannot afford to care for. The irresponsible behavior of these parents clearly harms society and the govt subsidies compound the problem by supporting the irresponsible behavior. I do not mind helping those in dire financial situations which they didn't bring upon themselves, but that's not the case with children. Children that are planned should be planned for financially by the parents. Children that are unplanned for financially are the product of negligence by the parents. Govt is NOT promoting the general welfare of society when it subsidizes negligence. Can we agree there?

Larry, I benefited from public education. That's true. I also benefited from the "separate but equal" schools in the south in the late 50's/early 60's. Even though I'm white and benefited greatly from the inequality of the society in that era, I don't support the continuation of those unfair and irresponsible policies either. I am trying to take a measured and honest look at society's policies, even if I've gotten benefits from the policies. Govt subsidized public education is a financial and scholastic failure. Private education works better and promotes the general welfare by fostering a sense of responsibility for ones family and ones children.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: Pete

"I do not mind helping those in dire financial situations which they didn't bring upon themselves, but that's not the case with children."

Read that sentence again and see if you can determine where the error lies.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: Dan Lyke

Pete, I don't see the error there. I have no objection to helping the children, but I'd like to slap the parents in debtor's prison.

I also object strongly to your characterization of this as a discussion about the desirability of public education. I also support a police force. I don't like the circumstances that make it necessary for me to support a police force, and would like to make sure that the social pressures of the society to which I belong tend towards systems that make the police force less necessary.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:51+00 by: Pete

Do you think that children in dire financial situations brought it upon themselves? That's what endorsing the quote from topspin entails.

"I also object strongly to your characterization of this as a discussion about the desirability of public education. I also support a police force."

This strongly suggests that you support subsidized education. Is this the case?

And every comment I've contributed to this discussion has been about the desirability of subsidized education to those without children of their own.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Larry Burton

Topspin, do you advocate making choices based on the current rules that are in place or making those choices based on the rules that you wish were in place?

I will not attempt to argue the right of irresponsible people to procreate. By the same token I will not accept an argument that says that people who consider public education as being acceptable for them when they decide to become parents are somehow irresponsible.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: topspin

Pete, you took my quote out of context. Re-read and it's clear I was talking about the adults in the situation, not the children. Obviously, as Larry pointed out, the kids are here and need help, but I'm opposed to the current system of entitlements and subsidies to the family. I believe the parents are guilty of child neglect and need to be charged. The children need and deserve more responsible parents and role models. The children deserve help, but part of that help should be seeing their parents punished for their irresponsible behavior. What's wrong, Pete, with holding parents responsible for their obligations to their children?

My concern for the country is that subsidized housing, education, etc. create a sense of "Daddy Govt" watching over the people and taking care of responsibilities which people should handle. Breaking the link between a person's behavior and their responsibility for that behavior is psychologically and socially unhealthy for all of us. Clearly, the current system is not promoting the "general welfare" of the people; instead, it's cycling irresponsibility and fostering an attitude that the govt should provide for us without penalty whether we are responsible or not.

That is not the govt's role. "Promoting the general welfare" involves fostering an individual's responsibility for his/her actions and life decisions, not taking care of the adult population as though they were children.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Pete

Subsidized education, via public education, vouchers, etc., bypasses the family and directly benefits the child. Do you dispute this? Do you deny that this benefits society as a whole?

In fact, some juridictions hold parents legally liable (civil or criminal, I do not know) for their children's school attendance. Some carry it further and actively link the eligibility for public housing or AFDC to a parent's performance in getting their children to attend school.

"What's wrong, Pete, with holding parents responsible for their obligations to their children?" Another strawman. I never said there was anything wrong with that. Keep trying, I might miss one if you keep it up. But it is good to hear that you are suddenly so concerned about the children.

"Clearly, the current system is not promoting the "general welfare" of the people; instead, it's cycling irresponsibility and fostering an attitude that the govt should provide for us without penalty whether we are responsible or not." Are you sure? I'm not. Welfare rolls are way down, serious crime is way down, and one way or another this country just elected a president promising to reduce taxation and the role the government.

Let me know when you've digested all of this and I'll explain why the government is so slow to come down hard on financially struggling parents.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: topspin

Pete, I realize an educated populace benefits society. My concern is over who should be responsible for paying for education. My position is that parents choose to take on the responsibility of raising a child and I submit that the choice of becoming a parent should involve being solely responsible for the expenses of rearing that child, including education.

As Dan commented earlier, the EPA superfund is helpful to society, but the sole responsibility for a factory's pollution rests with the factory owner. The superfund is for lawbreakers, ie., those who don't meet their responsibilities. I am not opposed to subsidized education of the children of parents who are negligent parents, ie., neglectful in their duty as parents to financially support their children. Non-negligent parents should fully pay for the education of their children because it's part of the responsibility of parenting.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Mars Saxman

The production of children is a money-losing operation. Where offspring once helped out on the farm or otherwise contributed to the family income, they now provide no benefit at all. People who reproduce must do so purely for emotional satisfaction. There's nothing unusual in government subsidy of a failing, but important industry. Think of the Chrysler bailout back in the 70's: it made sense to prop the company up for a while, in spite of their money-losing status, in order to preserve the benefit of a domestic auto industry. U.S. population needs are currently filled by immigration, but it makes sense to preserve a domestic baby-making industry so the nation isn't completely reliant on imports.


#Comment made: 2001-06-18 17:15:39+00 by: debrahyde [edit history]

>>>I submit that the choice of becoming a parent should involve being solely responsible for the expenses of rearing that child, including education.<<<

Well, if that's the case, be prepared to the number of poor rise in our country. Right now, I pay roughly upwards of $4,000 a year in state property taxes while my kids *each* cost almost twice that per year to educate. One of my kids is handicapped, and there are years that his education would take *half* of our GROSS annual income if we had to pay it ourselves. And no, he wasn't born disabled -- it came on when he was eleven.

I'm a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I could go back to work, but my son's difficulties keep me at home so I can deal with the schools and doctors during the day. Given our circumstances, we have little disposable income -- and that's on a single, professional level income.

Under a pay-it-yourself scheme, we'd struggle with two healthy kids. As things *really* are, we'd be impoverished if we had to pay for our kids' education.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Dan Lyke

In a perfect world, I'd imagine a situation where you could buy child insurance to cover things like disabilities and development issues. This would let parents distribute the risk over the subgroup that wants to participate in that activity.

On the issues of surviving on a single professional income, I think it's fairly easy to trace much of that cost to overpopulation pressures. I think banks generally figure that 1/3 of pre-tax income is reasonable for housing costs, although out here in the bay that can probably go as high as 1/2? I haven't done taxes as a homeowner, but I believe that interest costs from that are deductible, but even so it doesn't take too much of an income before you lose the remainder at 40% to taxes. So housing (see my previous comment about economic growth per capita vs housing costs) can easily cost half of your post-tax income.

And my point is not so much an appeal to end public education, it's a reminder that next time parents ask for more time off from work, subsidized daycare, other flex time tied to their childed status, or whatever, we need to remember that we're not starting from zero, we've made some pretty heavy concessions already.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Larry Burton

Dan, is there any difference between me taking time off work to take my child to the doctor and you taking time off from work to go kayaking?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Dan Lyke

None. I'd like to see it be that way.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Larry Burton

In my case I don't see that it is. If I take off for family responsibilty or just for the hell of it I use up personal or vacation time. If I don't have any personal or vacation time left I don't get paid. Maybe that's why I don't understand what all the bitching is about.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: Dan Lyke

Once again, Larry, I am given reason to believe that your personal integrity puts you well outside the American mainstream.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:52+00 by: topspin

Debra, as I mentioned, I have no problem with educational and living subsidies for folks who have kids with special needs or situations beyond their control. My primary issue is with folks who enter into parenting knowing they cannot support the child... financially, emotionally, etc.

Society DOES benefit from an educated populace, but society is HARMED by irresponsible parenting. Eric and I discussed the issue and he mentioned schools which expect the parents to participate.... to help out at school.... to be involved in the educational process and in their kid's life. I can support subsidies for that type of education and parenting. I can easily see the benefit in educating the kids AND the parents.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: TC

Welp, this has officially become the longest thread in Flutterby history. passing up the 39 posts from Eric's rant back in april. It's really very cool to see community based antediluvian chat happening.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: spink

Well, I can't honestly say that the US government didn't pay one red cent for my education. But I know that they didn't pay anything at least until I went to college.

My Mom has run a school for the past 27 years. I'm fairly sure that at least one member of this group actually has a kid that goes to said school. And in those 27 years, the parents have always been expected to help keep the school in shape and help expand the school when needed. It isn't a lot of time, a saturday once every couple of months working on the grounds or helping to build a new playground, etc.

The issue is that the current public school system is entirely a freeloading system. There isn't even the slighted expectation that the family will help out the school. I have no problem paying taxes for education as long as those getting educated and the parents of those getting educated are willing to put in the work to maintain the infrastructure.


#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: debrahyde


Have you seen the cost of long-term nursing care insurance for the elderly? Insurance for the disabled young wouldn't be anymore affordable to families than long-term insurance is for the elderly. Especially since the risk pool is very likely to be weighted with those who family histories push them in that direction.

As it is, I dread the day our medical insurance tells us we've capped out with our son. Right now, it pays about 80% of our medical costs. But there've been times when we've been out of the loop and had to pay for my son's therapy. That bill was between $300.00 to $400.00 a month -- for therapy only. No drugs, no psychiatric visits.

(Oh, and I made a mistake about the taxes. That figure I quoted was for *town* property taxes. It didn't include our state or federal income taxes. I used that figure because it gets dumped into the town coffers, which in turn helps pay for most of our services, education and otherwise. Anyway...)

Parents helping out in schools: Hmm. Seems to me that if you've raised your child to participate in a non-disruptive way, to do their homework every night and be consistently prepared for school, then what else should parents do? (Besides PTO and any *call* for parental assistance.) Paint walls? Mow lawns? I'm not sure the town's liability insurance allows for anyone other than bonded or registered workers from doing those tasks. And if your town workers are unionized to boot, well, hey. Guess who's going to complain about parental help?

And help in the classroom doesn't go much beyond the photocopier. Honestly, parents hinder more than help when it comes to the classroom. )Would you want similar assistance in your workplace? I doubt it.)

The last time I saw an old-fashioned team effort in my town was when my kids' elementary school put in new playground equipment year ago. Because PTOs have traditionally paid for playground equipment, said companies have designed their installations so parents can help. But you know what happened? The cost of *basic* playground equipment rose so high that PTOs can no longer afford to fund new equipment. My kids' equipment hasn't been expanded since it was installed and our schools are turning to the town to cost-share in future expansions/rennovations.

Topspin: "My primary issue is with folks who enter into parenting knowing they cannot support the child... financially, emotionally, etc."

Many, many times the very people who can't support or manage their kids *can't* see their limitations. The parents whose son wound up on our doorstep were classic examples. They shouldn't have had kids, no way, no how. But they did and if you challenged them on their stupidity, do you think they'd take it laying down? So what are you going to do? Pass laws saying the stupid, the dysfunctional, the poor can't have kids? And how are we going to decide who falls into those categories? It's a quick step from frustration to eugenics.

Idiots will always be among us. Honestly, I think the best we can sometimes do is accept that society has its burdens and no matter how hard we work to minimize them, they'll still be with us at some level. The trick is not to let frustration become blanket condemnation of others.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: sethg

Public schools do not exist for the benefit of the parents[Wiki]; they exist for the benefit of the public[Wiki](or, to be cynical, the State). Consider:

A child's success or failure in school has much more of an effect on society-at-large than on the parents. After all, once a kid grows up, the parents may be proud or distressed by the child's academic achievements, but they have no more legal claim on the child's future income than anyone else; the rest of society, on the other hand, is concerned about having adults who are prepared (intellectually and emotionally) for college and work. Remember that the earliest public schools were supposed to prepare lower-class children for factory work.

The policies and budgets of public schools are not controlled by the parents of students, but by a political system in which non-parents and parents of twelve children have one vote each, and in which the people who end up running the school board may not represent the opinions of the parents. The Christian Coalition had a deliberate strategy to take over local school boards, because their leaders realized that since voter turnout for those elections is very low, a well-organized group of their followers could have a disproportionate impact on the election. Parents who are dissatisfied with their local school's curriculum or policy can lobby for a change through the political system, but they generally don't have a legal right to demand a change -- because the school isn't acting as their[Wiki] agent, it's acting as the state's[Wiki] agent.

If parents were completely responsible for their children's education, then irresponsible parents could turn their kid over to a discount school that provided little more than babysitting. With a public school system, there's at least a fighting chance that some children will be prepared for adult life in spite of[Wiki] their parents.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: topspin

Debra: While I agree that idiots will always be among us, I don't want govt enabling idiocy. Whether the negligent parents have the cognitive skills to have seen their limitations or not, I strongly feel govt does a disservice to the children, the parents, and to all of society when it removes the natural consequences of stupid behavior. Those with lower cognitive skills tend to learn primarily by trial & error. Removing error from the equation removes their chance of learning.

We realize the danger of improper operation of a car, so we support testing for those who operate a car. Regardless of your ability to buy a car, one must pass a test to legally drive. I submit that improper parenting is dangerous to society and parental testing is warranted (perhaps via "continuing ed" types of courses handed out and tracked like immunization records at school.) Those "parenting tests" would bring back the notion of error to the equation of parenting. Those who fail the tests would face more required parental education and society would help the kids, the parents, and itself by singling out those who would potentially parent dangerously.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: Larry Burton

>> Those "parenting tests" would bring back the notion of error to the equation of parenting. Those who fail the tests would face more required parental education and society would help the kids, the parents, and itself by singling out those who would potentially parent dangerously.

Try to impose that and you'll see the population of Idaho and Montana explode.

Topspin, what you are asking for is for parents to bear all the responsibility without any of the authority for raising their kids. If one's idea of parenting doesn't exactly coincide with that of the state further schooling for the parents is mandated. Is this really the way you envision it?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: Dan Lyke

But sethg, the problem is that parents feel a biological imperative (and heavy social pressures) to pass on their genes. This is a macroeconomic problem, not a microeconomic one. In isolation, yes, the schools work for the benefit of the public. After a couple of generations, though, the feedback loop has a chance to kick in.

The problem I don't know how to surmount is: How do we make sure that parents will be responsible before they decide to have kids. The only way I know of to do that is to change the social pressures.

Debra, a lot of this is from a theoretical perfect world. I haven't gone looking for long-term nursing care insurance, but I know that I just signed papers for my new round of long-term disability insurance, it runs about $13/month at my salary level, and yet most people don't think about accidents or other debilitating issues that would prevent them from working and will end up in the government safety net should things ever go bad.

Tax-wise, I think you're still underestimating: You figured $4k for property taxes, but did you include sales tax and other dollars that go to local expenses?

What can you do to participate in your child's school? My parents helped build and wire the elementary school I went to (private school, so that's a bit different). Jeanne, the mother of Alec and Zack, the core of the group of kids I refer to on Flutterby as the "rat boys", serves on the school board. I've been to a several school plays recently where parents had helped build the sets and coach with various things. The politics and the union issues are sometimes hard to surmount in public schools, but I, as a non-parent, have spent enough time in an elementary school on a Saturday helping decorate, brainstorming through teaching ideas and lesson plans, striking sets after a school play, helping with homework and research for school projects, and other things which aren't coming to mind right now that I think I'd have trouble not[Wiki] finding opportunities to help. And those are all public school examples.

Finally, I whine about parents not because I want to leave parents high and dry, but because it's the only way I can see to start changing that truism that Debra mentioned:

Many, many times the very people who can't support or manage their kids *can't* see their limitations.

Absolutely, and as long as we keep not sticking it back in their faces, because breeders (as distinct from parents) will continue to pump out kids unless they are much more conscious of the social and biological pressures which are pushing them to reproduce.

(Meta: Now I've really really really gotta split up pages of responses, the load time of this page is starting to annoy me.)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: debrahyde


The examples you stated are those *call* to actions I mentioned. But schools only call out where it's appropriate for parents to help. There's many more instances where parental involvement is inappropriate and actually does more harm than good. I've seen enough hyperviligant parents to know that I want stronge boundaries between those parents and my kids' education.

OTOH, I know I haven't been able to go on a field trip with my daughter in years because there's always been too many volunteers. However, we invariably go on our son's recorder field trips (when he's healthy enough for mainstream). And guess what? Most of the parents who join us are the other special ed parents -- we all know leaving the teacher and other volunteers unassisted just isn't fair.

I think we're underestimating just how many parents *are* involved for the sake of bitching about those who aren't. What I see in my town is that enough parents are involved directly and enough parents hold their kids to high enough standards and expectations that literacy, graduation rates, and college entrance numbers almost rival those of private schools. Looks to me like the town is producing decent, literate, and capable citizens at graduation.

Dan, when I live in the trenches every day, it's very hard for me to luxuriate in theoretical thinking. I'm far too likely to apply theory to work-a-day circumstances and project forward. And what I see in this case, I don't like.

See, I've got mixed feelings about change the social message about having kids. What's the message and who are you going to aim it at? The economically disadvantaged? Well, what's that say about our outlook on class structure? Only the haves get to have kids? Sorry, have-nots. You don't qualify. That's your lot in life. And even if you have a public awareness campaign and try to imbue public duty into the message, what are you going to people who fail or refuse to comply with it? What does the enforcement of that policy say about individual liberty?

Consider this as well: Living in a special interest society means that it's unlikely that any one message is going to satisfy the greater majority of the population. I'm sure the religious right fundies would abhor the-close-to-zero-population message and decry it as anti-family. After all, it's not only a biblical imperative in their eyes, but it replenishes the masses from which they can strengthen their ranks and to which they can proselytize. So how are you going to get them over to your side?

And you can be sure a "minimal family" message would be aimed at my kids, now that the hereditary conditions of mental illness are known. I've already resigned myself to not being a grandparent someday and I'm already counseling my kids to think seriously about foregoing parenthood until cures for my son's conditions are established. But I do that by personal choice, not because the state and all my friends tell me too.

So who does that leave as eligible for parenthood? The rich, the smart, and mainstreamed. Is that how we really want to structure society? Doesn't anyone see both the possibility for eugenics and a cast system (with even greater marginalization than we already see today) spinning out of this kind of logic?

On another note, Dan, not all family policies are aimed strictly at mom, dad, and the kids. My husband has co-worker who's his age and has taken a lot of personal time this year, more than anyone else in the office. Why? Because for years, he's cared for his father and his mentally retarded brother SOLO. But dad's finally failing and he can no longer do the job. He had to take time to find dad a nursing home, the brother a group home, and then move himself. Family policies in the workplace are for everyone, Dan, and there's all kinds of sandwiching. In this man's case, he *finally* has the freedom you take for granted -- and he's in his late 40s. He sacrificed decades of personal freedom to care for family.

And any one of us could be there in a moment's time. Imagine one of your parents or a sibling becoming completely and suddenly disabled. Imagine how your role in their life might change. Imagine the kinds of support you'd need -- in addition to what your disabled loved one would need.

I never expected in a million years that my kid would wind up not only as a special ed case, but one of the most severely affected in my town. When you live through and beyond a tragedy, then you realize just why safety nets exist. And you're damn thankful for everyone of them, no matter if it's the town, the state, or the workplace who throws them at you.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: sethg

But sethg, the problem is that parents feel a biological imperative (and heavy social pressures) to pass on their genes. This is a macroeconomic problem, not a microeconomic one.

According to figures at the Population Reference Bureau, the fertility rate (births per woman of childbearing age) in the US is 2.1, which is exactly replacement rate. Other industrialized countries have even lower rates: Germany and Japan are 1.3; Canada is 1.5; the UK and Australia are 1.7. Countries in the EU tend to be more generous to parents than the US, but none of them have a fertility rate over 2.0.

So where's the macroeconomic problem?

#Comment made: 2001-06-19 16:48:47+00 by: sethg

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: topspin

Larry: what you are asking for is for parents to bear all the responsibility without any of the authority for raising their kids. If one's idea of parenting doesn't exactly coincide with that of the state further schooling for the parents is mandated. Is this really the way you envision it?

Again, you buy a car and are fully responsible for the expenses and upkeep, but you can't drive like a bat outta hell just because you alone paid for the car. Society, for its own safety, establishes basic rules related to driving. Reckless parenting is dangerous to society as is reckless driving.

I agree with Debra in many ways. MANY parents are basically responsible, just as many drivers would be basically responsible regardless of licensure and testing. Most folks are willing to make huge personal sacrifices for their kids and for their famililes. MANY folks understand and fully appreciate society's assistance in situations of need and with parenting. For society to use some means of trying to identify and educate dangerous, "don't care" parents seems parallel, IMO, to trying to educate and identify irresponsible drivers.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:53+00 by: Larry Burton

Topspin, the analogy of driving and parenting, in this case, isn't analagous. A car is not going to leave the garage after eighteen years and drive off on its own.

As for "don't care" parents, Family and Children's services are removing children from some of these parents daily. Look into some of the horror stories that his necessary service has breed.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:54+00 by: Dan Lyke

Debra, I think the main issue is that I'm extremely aware that my social group is a highly[Wiki] non-representative sample. And I'm not at all surprised that the parents who read and participate in Flutterby go out of their way to be involved in their children's upbringing in a way that I'd approve of. But I know that I have a highly skewed social circle, and I make deliberate effort to look around at what's really happening, outside of my social group, and outside of my yuppie geographic existence.

But even inside that Marin bubble I see plenty of kids who were born because someone thought a child would "complete their life", or keep a failing relationship together, and who are now used as pawns in petty struggles between emotionally disturbed people rather than being deliberately raised. What steps would you take to make sure that the boy you've had contact with had parents who understood what raising a child really means?

As a result of that looking around, I have no problems biasing parenting towards those who've built either the economic or social capital to support their children, and who are making a much more conscious choice about having children. And if the economic system isn't reflecting the values you'd like to see the society biased towards, then I think finding ways to influence what the economic system rewards is a much more intellectually honest and structurally sound approach.

Biological processes practice eugenics, that's part of nature. If we have a problem with what conditions we're evolving under we should change the conditions, not try to pretend evolution doesn't happen.

Also, it's that you never in a million years thought that your kid would wind up as a special ed case that we, as a culture, need to work on enlightening prospective parents about. I think it's a huge fault of our society that parents aren't thinking "oh crap, what if our little bundle of joy turns out to be like Dan's uncle, what will we do then?"

(and as an aside, several of those "what if"s you ask about people close to me needing assistance are not theoretical, and the expenses I put into that aren't tax deductible. And that doesn't include the aforementioned uncle, who, thankfully, other generations are taking care of thus far.)

sethg, all[Wiki] those numbers are still way high. I'd like to see world population at 1/100th of what it is. At the Japanese rates, that's still roughly 3 centuries, which I assume will be long after I die off and therefore cease to care (if not, we're way over replacement rate...). But long before that, in the manner of the flu epidemics of the early part of this century, nature will take care of population pressures; I'd rather that happen voluntarily. And I'd like to lower the birth rate in a way that doesn't result in the sort of social detachment that those I know who come from northern European countries complain about. I want people deliberately building the communities to support their neighbors, and not simply passing that responsibility off into the bureaucracy.

(And yes, I know about the problems with falling birth rates, and the pressures that this will undoubtedly put upon our medical and healthcare systems. Before those become an issue we'll also have to change other societies.)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:54+00 by: Larry Burton

On the topic of birthrate, China is heavily enforcing a one child per family quota on their population. One side effect of this policy is the complete elimination of uncles and aunts. Just something to think about. What would you have missed out on without uncles or aunts?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:54+00 by: topspin

Larry, the parenting/driving analogy problem you cite... "the car won't drive itself off in 18 years".... is EXACTLY why irresponsible parenting should be subject to societal modification. Unless you are willing to submit that parents are not that big of an influence on their kids, irresponsible parents or parents who "don't see their limitations" show their kids irresponsible role models or role models which limit the kid later in life.

If society can identify and educate those negative role models, it has a better chance of improving the kid's lot in life and hopefully that kid will be a better role model for any kids he/she might choose to have.

Given the potential for longterm societal effects from parenting, it is MORE important than driving, thus society should have a bigger interest in modifying irresponsible parenting than irresponsible driving.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:54+00 by: Larry Burton

Topspin, it is easy to set up objective standards by which to judge a good driver. Do you believe child rearing is something that can also be judged by objective standards? Is there only one proper way to raise a child? On who's criteria do you establish the guidelines by which to parent? Which is more important raising a self-supporting child with a social conscious or raising an educated child? Will the same method of parenting be as effective on two different children?

I have enough of a problem with the government mandating seatbelt usage. Do you understand why what you are suggesting scares the hell out of me?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:54+00 by: Dan Lyke

Given that I'm too lazy to fix the discussion software to break this into pages, if y'all want to continue this why don't we pick this discussion up over in the cost of a child (continued) entry.