The Child Development Deficit

by Natasha Chart

While many parents dread the high costs of college, new Department of Agriculture figures suggest that raising a child born in 2009 to the age of 18 costs an average of $222,360.

… Based on previous reports by the department, the overall cost of raising a child rose 15% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1960 and 2008. The increase has been driven largely by sharp increases in health-care, child-care and education costs, the department says. …

While the report points out that there may be economies of scale for additional children, and certainly, not every family spends as much as the average, the fact that it’s expensive to have children shouldn’t be shocking news to anyone.

And though the costs of child care have risen, that’s not the whole story. For families who have to go without child care because they can’t afford it that often means that the family goes without the potential wages of a mother or grandmother, which they may be even less able to spare.

Though it also isn’t a surprise that the work of teaching and socializing young children isn’t valued. It’s a shame, an ongoing tragedy, perhaps, but not a surprise. That lack of value is realized today in economic hardship for parents, it will be realized twenty years down the road in a workforce that’s less healthy, less educated and less socially adept than they could have been.

More, we’re in a recession, now; There are more than five job applicants for every open position. Many people have had to take salary cuts or hour reductions to keep their jobs.

At a time like this, the difference between what families make in low wage jobs or while unemployed and what’s needed to provide children a good quality of life has pushed many families over the edge into extreme poverty. Twenty-one percent of children will be living below the poverty line in 2010, wiping out most of the gains made in their well-being since 1975.

Children living in poverty during a time of economic decline are also likely at greater risk of becoming overweight and performing poorly in school, as their parents’ are forced to stretch their budgets with low-quality food, and cuts in state pre-K education keeps them at a disadvantage relative to middle class peers.

When their parents can’t afford dental or vision care, children in low-income households may face additional problems with following along or concentrating in school. A child who can’t see the chalkboard or has chronic toothaches isn’t likely to have much easier a time in school than a hungry child.

Children in a household where a woman is the primary income-earner, whether due to single parenthood or a partner’s unemployment, are likely at an additional disagvantage.

… Over the course of a year, the gender pay gap results in the average woman earning $10,622 less than she should be taking home. … How important is that money to the husband who was laid off and is still depending on his wife to get the family through his period of unemployment? How significant is an extra ten grand to the son who starts college in the fall and is counting on his mother to help him shoulder the enormous cost of tuition? …

And all of this leaves the United States with an enormous child development deficit that can’t be repaid later.

The effects of poor diet, severe family stress, deferred treatment for chronic health conditions, and lower educational engagement will last a lifetime. When today’s economic pain is shifted away from big banks, and farther away from still bigger banks, and onto low-income families, that pain is shifted to the next generation of our workers and their prospective colleagues.

Many in Congress have become ‘fatigued’ by the idea of spending any money to make life better for the families raising tomorrow’s workers. Too many people in state governments are more afraid of taxing polluters than they are of taxing the health and development of vulnerable children.

Well, it’s downright exhausting to be poor, whether you’re working poor or unemployed. It’s terrifying for parents to try their hardest and find themselves unable to give their children better chances than they had, because their future is tied up in those children.

Government officials suffering legislative fatigue need to remember that all our futures are tied up in those children. If that future is going to be good, then their parents need jobs and they need good quality care. Because some deficits can never be repaid.

Service Employees International Union


The Child Development Deficit

originally appeared on

on Thursday, Jun 17, 2010.

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