To determine the amount printed on stimulus checks, United States legislators thought it over, argued a bit, and came up with the tidy sum of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. But why should the amount for children be less than half of that for adults? Kids are smaller humans and, ergo, require less food and smaller shelters, but the financial logic falls flat after that — unless those numbers represent what is politically expedient and not what is right or good or even practical.
Sure, some of the expenditures associated with children are naturally covered by inevitable adult spending on rent or mortgages and utilities. And there are some economies of scale after that. Parents don’t need to upgrade everything when they give birth — a toaster is a toaster is a toaster — and while kids do require additional food, that need increases so gradually that the additional cost is relatively negligible. So there’s some savings to be had. And, having counted it, the members of congress and President Trump seem to have moved on.
So let’s talk about real costs and why that $500 is so insulting.
For younger children, the average weekly cost for childcare is around $200. That cost doubles for parents who have hired nannies and in higher-cost markets, which are where the bulk of federal tax revenue gets raise. Importantly, these costs haven’t vanished since children have been staying home. In competitive childcare markets, including San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, parents are continuing to pay no-longer-operational daycares to ensure children have a place to return once restrictions connected to social distancing are lifted. Many of these daycare centers have themselves applied for bailout funds and, unlike major corporations, been denied. The cost is therefore passed on the parents.
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For parents with older kids, including kids in public schools, the costs of raising kids are actually higher. And the fact that children are distance learning does not make it less expensive. In fact, closing schools may result in larger expenses down the road. College admissions and career placement are already highly competitive. Parents nervous that their children fell behind during the pandemic are likely to push children into enrichment activities and summer programs to catch them up. Academic tutors charge upwards of $80 for specialized subjects. Private coaches can cost up to $100 an hour. Hell, even STEM toys cost real money.
It can be argue that these things aren’t necessities, but not well. According to a 2019 study from the Cornell University Population Center, when presented with a variety of parenting styles, 75 percent of parents said that higher cost, higher time investment styles of parenting were preferable. American parents overwhelmingly see putting time and money into their children as the only way to ensure their children’s ability to thrive in an increasingly competitive society in which the wealth differential between the college educated and not is massive and growing.
The $500 for children approved by congress seems to suggest that keeping a kid alive is good enough — a pretty prime example of “They Don’t Vote”- style Washington child abandonment. What’s more, it completely ignores how important children are to the health of America’s economy.
Today’s children become tomorrow’s workforce and their wages will allow them to become taxpayers and consumers. Or not. The birth rate is dropping, which is no real surprise given the expense of raising children — not to mention the extraordinary amount of time necessary to do so well. The costs are too great and there are too few guarantees that the money and time will be worth the effort. Researchers and sociologists call the downturn in births a “birth strike” because it is essentially a labor revolt. Well, the federal government arguably just cut the salaried of unpaid parental laborers.
Last year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist Nathan Seltzer analyzed 24 years of data, looking at every birth in America at the county level. He found that a lack of manufacturing jobs in an area was an incredibly accurate predictor of fertility rates compared to unemployment rates, which have long been used as the ur-economic indicator. That’s important because manufacturing jobs are generally union jobs, allowing workers to bargain for better wages and benefits. When workers don’t feel their families can be supported it seems they are less likely to have families. Parents don’t have a union — not a real one anyway — and the government behaves exactly like an employer that hasn’t been forced into collective bargaining. The result? Fallow kindergartens.
Parents raising their children during a pandemic need support. They need to be recognized as ensuring our country has a well, educated, hard-working citizenry to keep America strong. While they aren’t being told their children are worthless, they are certainly being told that their children are literally worthless. And that is disheartening, to say the least.
If they really wanted to shore up the future against the pandemic, the men and women congress should rethink the $1200/$500 ratio. Less than half of an adult is a pretty small fraction when you’re considering the future of a country and the stormy present of millions of caregivers. Less than half an adult is uncomfortably negligible in the context of the broader Paycheck Protection Program math. To put the $500 in context, multi-millionaire Trump donor Monty Bennett, CEO of the hotel company Ashford Inc., will see his company receive $96.1 million in government loans. Even Bennett’s own fact sheets suggest the bulk of the money will have to be repaid because PPP loans only become grants if more than 75 percent of funds go to employee salaries. In essence, Bennett received a massive cash injection at ridiculously favorable rates while parents got a week of groceries.
A budget is a moral document. Our spending represents where we place our values. If the bulk of your income goes to strippers and booze, you value indulgence. If the bulk of your income goes to charity, you value your community. Right now, it’s safe to assume that our president and our legislators value their jobs and donors more than they value the future economic health of our country or the standard of living for their current constituents. They aren’t governing for a future beyond the November election, which is both deeply cynical and morally repugnant.