Tag Archives: child care

No teen left behind

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Out of the goodness of its vote-conscious heart, the federal Conservative government has made child care a sturdy plank in its election platform this year. Noting that mum and dad are the “real experts” in raising a rug rat, the Tories have enhanced the Universal Child Care Benefit and Child Care Expense Deduction in 2015.

But what, in fact, does this mean?

In a report, released on Wednesday, Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette, explains that “the value of child care benefits grew from $0.6 billion in 2004-2005 to approximately $3.3 billion in 2013- 2014. This amounted to three-fifths (59 per cent) of what Canadian families were spending on child care in 2013-2014.”

What’s more, he added, “Families with young children (less than 13 years of age) spending money on child care received two-thirds (66 per cent) of these benefits. The remaining 34 per cent was distributed to families with no child care expenses and families with older children. As a share of households’ aggregate child care expenses, federal benefits represented roughly 42 per cent and 247 per cent, respectively.”

Now, Mr. Frechette finds, following the government’s so-called improvements to the programs, “if Parliament approves. . .PBO estimates the fiscal impact of federal child care policies will increase to roughly $7.7 billion from the 2013-2014 value of $3.3 billion. By 2017-2018, it will grow to roughly $7.9 billion.”

Fair enough, perhaps. But here’s the kicker, says the PBO:

“These proposals would also change the allocation of benefits. In 2015, 49 per cent of these benefits would go to families with child care expenses and young children, and the remaining 51 per cent to families with no child care expenses and families with older children. Since families with young children spend more on child care, their share will only cover 67 per cent of the amount they will spend on child care. Conversely, benefits that families with older children will receive from the government in 2015-2016 will represent nearly eight times the amount they will spend on child care.”

So, while millions of Canadian families that might legitimately need some federal help to defray the costs of raising their pre-adolescents, millions more that don’t are getting a free ride on the taxpayers’ dime.

This, of course, makes perfect sense – but only in an election year. Under any other circumstance it’s a travesty of sound, sensitive and useful public policy.

None of which actually addresses the larger issue, which is: In what sober version of reality do the benefit and expense deduction, which transfer, at most, a couple of thousand dollars a year, per kid, to families’ household budgets, constitute rational social policy when the annual cost of effective, professionally delivered child care can, and does, runs 14 or 15 times the current federal contribution?

Seven or eight billion dollars would go a long way towards inaugurating a universal system of affordable (to families) early childhood education and pre-school programs. It’s certainly not brain surgery. No one is asking the feds to reinvent the wheel. Apart from the United States, effective models of this sort of thinking exist productively and happily across the developed world – even here in Canada, where Quebec’s $9-dollar-a-day child-care system has both enhanced educational outcomes and reduced systemic rates of poverty in that province. The more kids enrolled in such programs, the more mums and dads provide for their families’ material needs.

Of course, that’s a hard sell, especially as political campaigners begin to beat the drums loudly.

After all, 14-year-old junior needs his Xbox.

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Putting the true profit motive back into government

 

At some point during their long campaign to regain the relevance they once enjoyed in western society, progressive liberals of the social-democratic mien finally wised-up to the fact that filthy lucre, not moral suasion, makes the world go round.

Specifically, unless they can link improvements in living standards, literacy and child care to actual wealth creation, they might as well go home and write folk songs for all the influence they’ll wield.

The money principle has been the genius of the counter-counter-culture that began with the reign of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, continued under the “everything goes” administration of Bill Clinton, persisted during the corporatist eras of the daddy-son Bush tag-team of George and Georgie W. It now languishes in Barack Obama’s uncertain hands. 

The fundamental idea was, and is, that Government is, at best, a necessary evil. Most of the time it’s just evil by nature – wasteful, tyrannical, ineffective. 

The “market” was, and is, mankind’s true salvation. Individuals, properly motivated through low taxation, will solve their own problems.

In this conception of reality, welfare is for weaklings, schools are for learnin’ the three Rs and, higher education is for snooty elites unless it leads to a job at a billion-dollar tech firm in Silicon Valley.

Or, as the late Margaret Thatcher once opined, “We want a society where people are free to make choices, to make mistakes, to be generous and compassionate. This is what we mean by a moral society; not a society where the state is responsible for everything, and no one is responsible for the state.”

Lately, though, that notion has been turning on its head.

Andre Picard, the Globe and Mail’s award-winning public health reporter, recently quoted from a study underwritten by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The findings were startling.

“For every $1 spent providing housing and support for a homeless person with sever mental illness, $2.17 in savings are reaped because they spend less time in hospital, in prison and in shelters,” Mr. Picard reported earlier this month.

“People who are severely mentally ill and chronically homeless use a lot of services – an average of $225,000 a year, according to research. Providing housing and support is costly too – an average of $19,582 per person. But the avoided costs are much greater, $42,536 on average, because those who are housed are put in hospital less often, make fewer ER visits and do not use shelters as often. . .For people with less severe mental illness and lesser needs, 96 cents is saves for every additional $1 spent on housing.”

The results suggest that, contrary to the opinions of nanny-state decriers, Government’s obligations to provide safe, reliable housing to the erstwhile homeless is not only moral – it’s also financial, as the investment yields an enviable return for all taxpayers.

Apparently, that’s something even a Harperite can get behind. 

“We can do more – not just manage homelessness, but eliminate it altogether,” Candice Bergen, federal minister of social development, said at the study’s unveiling in Ottawa on April 8. “I’m realistic. I know there will always be people who will be homeless and who will need help. But most people can recover, they can get back on their feet.”

Lately, the same line of reasoning has been leaking from commentaries by the unlikeliest sources: economists. 

When TD Bank Group’s Craig Alexander is not talking about the dollars-and-cents benefits of structured, universally accessible early childhood education, he’s pointing out the enormous costs to society of structural, endemic illiteracy.

Halting it, he recently told a business crowd in Saint John, “raises your income, which ends up creating a better standard of living. You invest in people. You improve their skills. You give them the ability to be much more productive. It’s good for business.”

It’s also good for the state – which, for all practical purposes, means all of us.

 

 

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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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