Robert J. Samuelson
The Washington Post
August 17, 2010

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t
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Among the government’s most interesting reports is one — published by the Agriculture Department — that estimates what parents spend on their children. The latest version finds, not surprisingly, that the costs are steep. For a middle-class husband-wife family (average pretax income in 2009: $76,250), spending per child is about $12,000 a year. Assuming modest annual inflation (2.8 percent), the report estimates that the family’s spending on a child born in 2009 would total $286,050 by age 17. A two-child family would cost about $600,000. All these estimates may be understated because they do not include college costs.

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These dry statistics ought to inform the deficit debate, because a budget is not just a catalogue of programs and taxes. It reflects a society’s priorities and values. Our society does not — despite rhetoric to the contrary — put much value on raising children. Present budget policies punish parents, who are taxed heavily to support the elderly. Meanwhile, tax breaks for children are modest. If deficit reduction aggravates these biases, more Americans may choose not to have children or to have fewer children. Down that path lies economic decline.

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