All in the family: the costs of raising children

By Kira Dault| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog Marriage and Family Politics Social Justice

When I was newly pregnant with my first-born, my husband and I went out to dinner with some friends who had kids themselves. When we made the announcement that I was pregnant, the first reaction that we got was, "Congratulations! Kids are SO expensive."

At the time, I found that remark odd and ill-timed. After all, I knew that having children would undoubtedly add to our expenses, what with there being more mouths to feed and all. But I honestly did not quite understand the full extent of the cost associated with child-bearing and rearing.

Lately, in the news and blogosphere, there have been a lot of pieces floating around about the cost of having children. Last year, the New York Times, ran this piece that compares the projected costs of raising a child, and the author comes up with a grand total of close to $2 million. The USDA predicts that raising a child from birth to age 17 costs somewhere in the ballpark of $300,000, give or take $100,000 depending on location and income bracket. The Wall Street Journal offers a slightly more tongue-swallowing figure of $776,000 for what they call the "Silver total" and $1.6 million for what they call the "Platinum total." These totals, by the way, are per child.

These predicted costs, of course, assume the child is already born, and do not take into consideration the inflated cost of getting the baby from "in" to "out" in the United States. According to this piece in the New York Times, a vaginal birth in a hospital now costs about $30,000. A Caesarian birth? $50,000.

Today, I have two children, and I have recently re-entered the workforce. My husband and I are now grappling with the costs of child care and family-unfriendly workplace polices, not to mention saving for college.  Hidden costs exist, too: I missed out on half a decade of potential savings toward retirement while I was at home with my kids. (The fact that our family had the option of one parent staying at home with the kids while the other worked is a luxury that I am well aware of. Many families have only one parent to begin with, or cannot afford to do without two incomes, even when one of the incomes will be consumed almost entirely with child care costs.)

Now I don't mean for this to turn into a lamentation of just how much it costs to have children (A LOT!) I love my kids, and am thankful beyond measure that they are in my life.

But I am keenly aware that my husband and I are both salaried employees of generous employers. We do not have to work shift work or worry about not getting enough hours to put food on the table. We have a dual-income household, and we can still both get home in time to have dinner as a family. We are privileged, and with income inequality on the rise, we are likely members of the privileged increasingly few.

The costs of raising a child are, in many ways, ignored in our public discourse. The recent McDonald's budget that raised some temporary controversy not only included a laughably low cost for health insurance: It included no space whatsoever for child care. The brass-tacks of child rearing are not particularly exciting, and it is expected that parents will simply make due.

In our June issue of the magazine, Ruth Graham discussed the difficulties of workplace policies in the United States. But it is not enough to count on individual workplaces to create family-friendly policies. If we want people to be able to start and support families, we need to work toward better policies on family leave, child care, health care, and education.

In a speech at Knox College yesterday, President Obama alluded to the fact that preschool for every 4-year-old in America would help out the working parents of young children. But it is not enough to make rhetorical gestures toward a group of people who are bringing the next generation into the world. We need to get more family friendly in this country, or we risk making child bearing and child rearing into another privilege of the wealthy few.