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Who can afford to have kids in today’s economy?


By Dr. Adam Schickedanz and Dr. Neal Halfon
   Los Angeles Times

This makes sense in financial context, given that most families haven’t seen their incomes grow since the recovery began and the median net worth of households has actually fallen below what it was 15 years ago.  Most families today don’t have enough saved to meet basic needs for three months, let alone save for college or retirement.

For folks in the middle class, the economic calculus of raising kids must be daunting.  Not only are the costs unaffordable, but parents also face a harsh ultimatum: “Keep up with the Gateses” or risk your children’s health, achievement and long-term well-being.
Higher-income families spend six times more than working-class families on child care and educational resources, such as high-quality day care, summer camps, computers and private schools, which are increasingly indispensable investments in long-term success.
This spending inequity has tripled over the last four decades and is only accelerating, which is likely to widen the achievement gap, creating a vicious cycle.

The public education infrastructure, designed generations ago to drive a strong economy and give every child an equal footing for success, is crumbling from neglect---stuck between those who argue for repair and those who argue for redesign.

As a consequence, it is unable to prepare most kids for the new economy.

The statistics are grim: Two-thirds of preschoolers don’t have access to high-quality child care, two-thirds of public school students fail to meet math and language proficiency by eighth grade, and two-thirds of public high schoolers aren’t ready for college when they graduate.
To solve these problems we have increasingly relied on a public safety net designed to catch what used to be a small number of kids falling through the cracks. 

But over the last 50 years those cracks have become chasms.  When funding constraints force programs such as Early Head Start to enroll just 4 percent of eligible children needing early intervention and half of pediatricians opt out of accepting kids on Medicaid, these are clear signs that it’s time to rethink our approach.

These economic realities are contributing to a swift loss of academic opportunity, health prospects and upward mobility among children whose parents cannot afford to spend top dollar.  With this de facto economic segregation of opportunity leaving working families in the economic dust, we are risking prosperity and social mobility of our kids for years to come.

We should be reinvesting in working families and modernizing our public infrastructure.  Not only would this make parenthood more feasible, it also makes good economic sense.  We know that investing early in kids yields considerable savings by reducing chronic health problems, building stable families and increasing earning potential.

The opportunity to raise healthy, smart and successful kids shouldn’t be an economic luxury.  It’s time we made parenthood affordable again by investing more in kids and families.  Given that what’s at stake is the success of our country, the alternative is unaffordable.

Dr. Adam Schickedanz, a pediatrician, is a clinical scholar and researcher in the departments of pediatrics and general internal medicine and health services research at UCLA.   Dr. Neal Halfon, a pediatrician, is director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities.  They wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.
Distributed by MCT Information Services.