Seriously, last week the United States Department of Agriculture released its report Expenditures on Children by Family, more commonly known as The Cost of Raising a Child. For a child born in 2012 to a two-parent, middle income family (meaning that the parents earn between $60,640 and $105,000 per year), parents can expect to spend $241,080 on housing, food, education, health care, and other costs over the next 17 years. (If you adjust for inflation, this becomes $301, 970.) That figure does not account for college costs.
This is a 2.6% increase from 2011, and a 4.4% increase from when the USDA began releasing these reports in 1960. In particular, the cost of health care, child care, education, and clothing have risen.
The figure changes depending on geographic differences, showing that parents will spend more to raise a child in the urban Northeast, say, then parents in rural areas. Also, the more kids you have in your family, the less each child receives. (You can calculate your own family’s expenditures on the USDA website.)
The amount spent per child is also different depending on your income, and here is where things get interesting. For families making less than $64,640 a year, the amount drops to $173,490. And for families making more than $60,640, it rises to $399,780.
You know how it goes: more money, more problems, and apparently a lot more spending on your little one. Like, $226,290 more, compared to a child born in the lowest bracket. And what does that money buy? Better schools, perhaps tutors, enrichment activities, as well as healthy, fresh food, the best medical attention, and maybe travel opportunities. (Probably really awesome birthday parties, too.)
Suddenly the thought of a society split radically between the haves and the have-nots seems less like science fiction and more like reality. All people enter this world with a certain set of skills, but from day one, some children are receiving more robust support and nurturing than others.
How much does that extra expenditure matter? It doesn’t have to mean a thing. More than one successful, happy adult was raised under tight financial circumstances. But when you look at the forest, rather than at the trees, financial statistics like these do reflect different outcomes for the children whose experiences they shape: true economic mobility is becoming more a pipe dream than the American Dream, and children are likely to stay within the income category to which they are born.
Dell’Antonia also points out that the report’s informal “cost of a child” name is misleading. The findings tell us less about the cost of a child, and more about how we choose to spend our money. After all, she writes, a television costs what it costs, but we decide whether or not we’re going to buy it. The USDA figure is only an average. One could be in a lower income bracket and decide to spend more on a child, or in a higher income bracket and spend less.
For example, our family falls in the lowest bracket, and we choose to have me stay-at-home with our son in part because it made economic sense. (I’ve written about this before.) However, we’re springing for a private pre-K program this year, because we don’t think our son is ready for a full-day program (which is what the nearby public school provides), and we believe the smaller student-to-teacher ratio will help him make the transition from stay-at-home kid to pupil. We’re dipping into savings (mostly given to us as gifts) and relying on parental support to make this happen. We’re very fortunate to have these things. Many families of lesser means don’t.
What can we do to address this growing gap is a confusing thing, and a potentially unpopular one to consider, in this era where social safety nets have been steadily eroded and destroyed. The story that people help themselves, that they make their way by hook or by crook out of poverty on their own, continues to dominate in our culture, only now it’s poster child is Jay-Z and not Horatio Alger. I believe more needs to be done by both our public institutions and private foundations to help even out the playing field for our nation’s kids, though what those things should be I’m not clear on. I believed that before I read the report, the only difference is that now I know it’s an over $200,000 field. It’s a staggering, and sobering amount of money to consider.
What’s your take on this? Should more be done to help even out the spending gap between rich and poor children in our country? And if so, what?