What's a pro-life church to do about the exorbitant cost of raising children?
As any parent these days can tell you, raising kids is expensive--really expensive. How expensive, exactly? According to the latest figures released in a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will cost parents $241,080 to raise a child born in 2012 from birth to age 17. That's a 2.6 percent increase from 2011 and a big jump from 1960, when it would have cost $25,230 (or $195,690 adjusted for inflation).
Part of those costs come from the extremely high price tag associated with things like pregnancy and child care. The New York Times recently reported that an average pregnancy in the United States costs $37,341--the highest of any developed country in the world. And once you manage to cover those expenses, there's child care, which according to a report by Child Care Aware of America can run as high as $15,000 per year for an infant and $11,000 a year for before and after school care for an older child. I've met more than one parent who has come to the startling realization that putting their children in day care will actually cost them more than they'd make at the job the day care is allowing them to go to.
And those costs are before you start adding things like clothes, food, shelter (one of the biggest expenses, as housing costs are so high that even white collar workers aren't making enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment in some major cities), education, etc, etc. Not to mention the potential lost earning power, career advancement, and retirement savings that come from one parent electing to stay home for a few years with the kids or dropping to part-time work for a while. Consider that for a full-time worker making the current federal minimum wage, a year's pay pre-tax is $15,080. That means it would take that worker roughly 16 years to earn what it costs to raise a child through age 17.
OK, so these numbers are distressing but this isn't big news. We know it costs a lot to have kids. The big question is what we can do about it.
The Catholic Church is of course strongly pro-life and pro-family. The church encourages people to marry and have children, as they are a blessing from God. Natural family planning is OK, but don't even think about using artificial birth control to try to save that $241,000. But is there a way for the church to help couples who want to have children but are deterred by the outrageous costs?
One of the church's current efforts to reach out to expectant mothers is through crisis pregnancy centers, which are primarily designed to prevent women from choosing abortion. Some also provide material needs like diapers, which are a big cost that some parents can't afford. But as we reported in our June issue, Catholics families who are struggling to make ends meet would like to see more encouragement and support from their church.
Perhaps the church can find a way to help expecting parents with the costs of prenatal care and child birth. Or maybe they can find a way to offer low- or no-cost child care options. Or help parents fill the gaps between when their kids get out of school and parents get home from work with activities for those children. Or host family nights that provide free dinners and fun for kids.
I'm not saying that there are easy solutions. But that's no reason for the church not to be hard at work on these issues. The stability of family life--not to mention the health of future generations--is depending on it. If the church won't reach out to help families who want to bring children into the world, who will?