What’s the cost of raising Cain?

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Very occasionally, the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think tank, issues a report that is not replete with errors, misinformation and ideological proclamations masquerading as dispassionate observations. Last Thursday morning was not one of those occasions.

In a paper entitled “The Cost of Raising Children”, the conservative ideas factory concludes that the tab for bringing up junior is equivalent to “what parents can expect to spend (on) the essential needs of their child. Using. . .this working definition. . .the ‘benchmark’ cost of a child in Canada is between $3,000 (and) $4,500 per year depending on the age of the child. This does not mean that lower income parents cannot successfully raise children on less than this.”

What it does mean, apparently, is that any other method deployed “to measure the cost of children is laden with political implications. . .There are vested interests in having high costs for raising children. The social welfare community, a broad coalition of public service workers, social activists, academics, and many journalists, is active in lobbying the state for more resources for families with children. This agenda, associated with left-liberal and social democratic positions, is part of a redistributionist perspective and it would be naive to ignore the influence it has on public policy. A high cost of children is consistent with this agenda.”

As one of those left-liberal, social democratic-minded journalists, the father of two, the grandfather of three (with another on the way), I am tempted to respond to the Institute’s findings with the simple, if inelegant, retort: Poppy-cock. So evidently flawed is its logic; so transparently larded with its own partisan agenda is its argument. But, in the interest of fuller discourse, I shall elaborate.

I am utterly certain that it is possible to raise a Canadian child on between $3,000 and $4,500 a year. Tens-of-thousands of families across the country are doing it right now. That doesn’t mean that such budgetary constraints are desirable. It certainly doesn’t mean that they comprise any sort of “benchmark” in a country where the actual costs vary wildly from province to province, city to city, village to village.

The cost of raising a child in downtown Toronto is in no way comparable to that of raising one in Antigonish, N.S. Even if one measures only the “essential needs” of a kid – food, clothing, personal goods, school supplies, and the like – the spending regimes are affected by situational factors, such as transportation infrastructure and available networks of family and friends.

In some locations, where the cost of living is higher than the national average, my $3,000 or $4,000 will stretch only as far as I am willing to raid Salvation Army bins for cheap hand-me-downs, stock up on powdered milk and processed macaroni dinners, and supplant cartons of fruit juice with less expensive bottles of soda. What, then, are the costs of raising a child who grows fat, listless and diabetic?

Beyond this, what breathtaking arrogance drives the Institute’s determination to define a kid’s “essential needs”? Are organized sports, which train the body and temper the mind, mere frills? Are music lessons and technology camps unnecessary luxuries? What about books? Hell, what about sneakers, out of which tykes grow faster than a dandelion in springtime?

When we assess the degree of success we’ve had in raising a child, will our true benchmark have less to do with the amount of money we’ve saved and more to do with the condition of the final “product”? Imagine a grotesque simulacrum of Huck Finn: Not merely barefoot, illiterate and unkempt; but also corpulent, bored and disengaged. Welcome, citizen of Canada. Your room in one of the nation’s finer penal institution awaits your arrival.

Perhaps the most astonishing finding in the report concerns structured child care, which the Institute does not consider an essential need. That’s not because, as it says, it’s not a “legitimate expense”. It’s because “many families with children will have little or no daycare costs. For example, in some two parent (intact) families, one parent may decide to stay at home to care for a pre-school child or children.”

Some may, but most can’t afford the “luxury” of prolonged unemployment. If you don’t believe me, dear Fraser, check the latest Statistics Canada figures on subject.

Oh, my mistake. I momentarily forgot, that this isn’t something you’re actually prone to do.

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