A new report by the Fraser Institute claims the cost of raising a child is dramatically lower than many previous studies have found. The report concludes that raising children costs families $3000 to $4500 per year. Previous studies, including 2004 research by Manitoba Agriculture, found that raising a child costs up to three times as much.
The purpose of the Fraser Institute report is unabashedly ideological: to counter the efforts of “the social welfare community, a broad coalition of public service workers, social activists, academics, and many journalists [who] actively lobby the state for more resources for families with children.” Indeed, the report concludes, “The attempt to measure the cost of children is laden with political implications. This is clearly not simply a scientific exercise.”
So what is the Fraser Institute’s political project? By presenting as low a figure as possible the Fraser Institute hopes to find evidence that a wide range of family assistance programs for low and middle-income families, from child tax credits to EIA rates for families can and should be cut to an absolute minimum. Secondly, they seek to normalize the two-parent, home-owning family, while presenting all other family structures as exceptions.
The evidence the report cites for their low-balled figure is far from convincing. Excluded from their estimates are many of the basic necessities families recognise as essential. Specifically, childcare and housing costs are assumed to be zero, while additional transportation costs are minimized. In their cost estimates, the authors of the report reduce family budgets in all areas to a survival minimum, concluding that any other expenses would be mere luxuries for Canadian children: “money for music lessons, a trip to Disney World, more expensive clothing, more elaborate toys and games, and more educational resources” are things that rich parents may provide, but not things that children of working poor, or middle-income families deserve.
It is a sad fact that many families are unable to afford adequate, quality housing for their family size. Many low-income families have to rely on informal and sometimes inadequate daycare options. Many low-income families do survive spending $3000 or even less on their children. The evidence however, is that poverty is an important determinant of health. Children raised on a bare minimum will have fewer educational opportunities and are more likely to be trapped in lifelong cycles of poverty. The goal of social policy should be to provide a basis for raising the opportunities for such families, not to entrench existing poverty as an ideal.
Another great analysis by the Wellesley Institute: Raising a child is cheap and cheerful, as long as mom stays at home