Parenting is more intensive and more expensive for Americans than it has been in recent memory. There are fewer paths to financial success for children, and parents are doing everything they possibly can, including breaking the law, to make sure their kids get an edge. The effort and anxiety required for modern parenting feel increasing unsustainable. And, in fact, some have suggested that the difficulty of raising kids has caused a decline in the birth rate. But it doesn’t appear things will get any better without serious U.S. financial policy changes. That’s why the People’s Policy Project has released a paper called the Family Fun Pack.
The Family Fun Pack is the work of lawyer, dad, political analyst, and People’s Policy Project President Matt Bruenig. The paper lays out “a comprehensive set of universal family welfare benefits with the goal of making parenting easy and affordable for everyone.” What does that mean? How about a box filled with essential baby items sent to every parent prior to their kid’s birth, 36 weeks of paid parental leave, free child care, and a cash allowance of $300 per month for each child under the age of 18?
As much as it sounds like a pie-in-the-sky socialist dream, Bruening has crunched the numbers and believes that it wouldn’t take too much restructuring to make the Family Fun Pack a reality. Fatherly spoke with Bruening about the inspiration for his proposal, progressive economics, and how his dream is a reality in a slate of prosperous Scandinavian countries.
Calling your universal family welfare proposal the Family Fun Pack is pretty delightful. Why, of all things, did you call it that?
Laughing underscores the idea of trying to break through. You could call it the New Deal for Families, or Justice for Families, or something but everything sounds like that these days. When I was a teenager, I worked at the Texas Rangers baseball stadium and they had something called The Family Fun Pack, which was like four seats, four hot dogs and four Cokes for $100. They had a package of items for the family all put together for you. That’s basically what I’m doing here, but for care benefits instead of hot dogs and Cokes.
Right. And frankly, as a dad, I’d rather have care benefits than a hot dog and coke.
Yeah, also secondarily, you want parenting to be fun. So much of parenting is framed as a burden. There’s this sacrificial notion to parenting right now, a kind of toxic culture. It would be better if it was a fun thing to have a kid.
Well, looking at what you’re proposing — 36 weeks of parental leave, free child care, free pre-K, free healthcare, free school lunch, and a cash allowance — the Family Fun Pack would certainly relieve some stress.
There’s something about bringing all these things together as a package that I think makes it more effective, especially at making people feel comfortable. Parents would feel like they’re going to be okay if they have kids because they’re not relying on a patchwork of programs various state and city benefits that aren’t coherent.
What brought you to this idea anyway and why do you think it’s even feasible?
Frankly, the benefits in the Family Fun Pack are copied from mostly Finland, but also to some degree Sweden and Norway — the baby box is from Finland, the paid leave, of course, is in all of them. But look, we’ve already got basically half the kids in the United States on free school lunch. It’s the same thing for health care. A lot of kids are already on Medicaid or the Child Health Insurance Program. So none of these things are novel.
But aren’t you talking about socialism? I thought socialism was dangerous and un-American and evil. Aren’t you just giving people a handout?
I would say this is a welfare state, just like social security for elderly people. I wouldn’t call that socialism, but it’s a benefits program. The best way to get people comfortable with this idea is to compare it to things that people are familiar with. I mean, look, we’ve got K through 12 education the United States. You know, 90 percent of kids go to public schools. Isn’t a kindergarten teacher providing the same service as a pre-kindergarten teacher or a child care provider? Why not get kids started at age six-months for the people who want to avail themselves of the free child care system.
Yeah, but that’s different than paying people cash money every month for having a kid.
So the child allowance is probably the one that people look at the most strangely. “Oh, you’re just giving people $300 a month. That seems odd.” But we have a child tax credit. It’s basically the same thing. It’s just a $2000 check. I mean, it doesn’t feel that way because it comes in the form of a refund, or maybe lower withholdings, but realistically it’s a $2,000 check. I propose $300 a month. That’s not really different, it’s just being delivered in a better way which is more helpful.
But won’t people just abuse that? Won’t they just have a ton of kids to take advantage of the system?
The benefits don’t cover the full cost of children. Parenting is still a money loser it’s just a not as much a money loser with the Family Fun Pack. You can’t sort of profit off of it. Also, we are below replacement level birth rate. So if people have more kids as a result of this who cares? I mean, it’s good.
But when you talk about Social Security and welfare programs, they’re always on the chopping block because they come up against the national debt. How do you make the cost of the Family Fun Pack something people can swallow?
I did some rough estimates of it. I didn’t include them the paper. But, if you exclude the healthcare piece, benefits cost around two to three percent of GDP if you give them some cushions. That’s basically what we spend on the military. I’m not suggesting we eliminate the military to pay for it, but it gives you a sense of what we’re talking about. The idea is about smoothing income across your life. When you’re a young adult and you’re having kids you’re going to be a net beneficiary, right? And then as you get older, you’ll have somewhat less but it balances because you’re not caring for children.
That’s all well and good, but why shouldn’t each American be taking financial responsibility for raising their own kids?
I think people think about children like we think about dogs at this point. You know, if you’ve got the money and you want to have a dog you have a dog. If not, it’s not a big deal. it seems to be a function of individualism in a very extreme sense. A child is considered a consumption item for the individual parent, like other kinds of consumption items, and you sort of pick between them — you can have a kid or you could have more trips and do all sorts of other other things with the money.
But we need kids. I mean, I love dogs but we don’t need dogs for society to continue.
Children are a contribution to society because they’re the ones that are going to support the elderly are the ones that are going to support the disabled. You sort of arrive at this recognition that there are a lot of people in society at any given time who are not working. You need a sufficient number of people working to offset those individuals. That means you’ve got a raise up the next generation. You have to have kids or society ceases to exist. And even short of ceasing to exist, you can end up having a lot of economic problems. Elderly people and disabled people will suffer the most if the workforce gets to be too small.
So the Family Fun Pack is acting as a way to keep America going, in a way?
Sure, it a way of saying, “Hey, are you interested in having kids? Just want to let you know if you do, we got you covered.”