An illustration of a baby stroller made up of dollar signs.


The U.S. Birthrate Is Down Because Kids Are Expensive

Without childcare assistance, having a baby and raising children is out of reach for a lot of American families. So why is the “pro-family-values” GOP working against helping them?

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The birthrate in the United States has been declining for a decade. Discussions around this data can get a little uncomfortable, considering that it is usually a subject that elicits panic among white supremacists who worry about the fate of their race, or by creepy misogynists opining on Twitter about Taylor Swift’s eggs. Or by conservatives, who are just real mad that things can’t go back to the way they were in the 1950s.

But those of us who value reproductive choice should be worried too, largely because the No. 1 reason many of us are choosing not to have children is because childcare is way too expensive.

The average cost of daycare for one year is $11,666. That is a lot, especially considering that it’s far from the only child-related expense parents have to come up with. There’s clothing, food, health care—and of course the non-essential niceties that all parents would like to provide for their children. On top of all of that spending, parents have to worry about whether they’ll be able to help their kids out with college.

Thankfully, all of the top Democratic candidates support some form of childcare assistance. Both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders support universal childcare, with Warren making her plan one of the centerpieces of her campaign. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar have plans to subsidize childcare spending over 7 percent of a family’s income, and Joe Biden is offering a childcare tax credit of $8,000.

One would think that, given opposition to abortion and birth control on the Right, they would welcome anything that made it easier for people to have children—especially considering that one of the reasons people opt to have abortions is because they cannot afford to raise —or hell, even deliver—a child in this country.

But no.

In fact, there have been multiple op-eds in conservative outlets within the past couple weeks attacking the entire concept of subsidized child care … because it discourages women (specifically women) from being stay-at-home mothers, as God intended.

The Federalist—a site that exclusively specializes in bad takes—put out several of these. One essay said that Joe Biden got it right in 1981 when he was the lone Senate vote against a childcare tax credit, which he opposed then on the grounds that it would “subsidize the deterioration of the family.”

Its author, Anna Anderson (not the Anastasia impostor, who is long dead) argues that such a childcare credit is unfair to parents who provide primary care for their children:

“So why should the heavy hand of government tip the scales in favor of day care? Biden made this case in 1981 as a simple matter of fairness, stating, ‘I do not believe it fair to ask a family of marginal income, choosing to provide the primary care for their children, to subsidize an upper income family’s day care.’ As a mother who chooses to stay home, snatching chunks of time to work whenever they come to me during the day, I consider myself extremely blessed. At the same time, I fully share Biden’s sentiment, and I can only imagine how much stronger a family of more modest means who chooses to provide the primary care for their children might share it.”

Anderson laments that Biden once thought that it would be bad to incentivize women who would otherwise stay home to go out and work:

“Biden refused to endorse a policy that would incentivize the distortions of materialism while eroding our most basic social fabric. He saw his colleagues using tax credits to nudge mothers who might otherwise stay home with their children back into the market—to keep earning, so they could keep buying, so the cogs could keep turning, so the machine could keep rolling. All masked, of course, in the cry of women’s liberation.”

In the National Review, John Hirschauer made the same argument, warning that such policies could lead to women being incentivized to have careers when they might otherwise choose to stay at home:

“While the burden imposed by childcare services on families’ wallets is real, the solutions offered by progressives always seem to involve using federal dollars as an incentive to bring more women into the workforce—women who might otherwise be satisfied to remain at home and raise their children themselves.”

Of course, it’s just women who “might otherwise be satisfied to remain at home.”

Suzanne Venker, Phyllis Schlafly’s daughter, took to the Washington Examiner to scold Elizabeth Warren for thinking women even want to leave the house to work in the first place:

“It is true that the majority of mothers work outside the home in some capacity. But it is equally true that when they do, they almost always feel guilty—which isn’t a bad thing but is an indicator that something needs to change. Most parents believe children are better off with a parent at home anyway.

Finally, when polled, the vast majority of mothers, 67%, say their ‘ideal’ situation would be to work part-time or not at all. This would all indicate that ‘high-quality, affordable childcare’ (which again, doesn’t exist anyway) is not at all what most people are clamoring for.”

The fact that conservatives view this as an “incentive” for women to reject their prescribed roles as stay-at-home-mothers instead of as an option if they prefer to keep working. A better option, one might add, than spending piles of money on child care. As much as conservatives may want women to stay home and raise children, it’s not the government’s job to encourage that—certainly not by not funding child care in hopes that women will give up their jobs and careers, and just stay at home out of necessity.

With universal child care, those who want to work can, and those who want to stay at home can still stay at home. It’s not that hard.

As for the argument that this “hurts” families with stay-at-home-mothers because part of their taxes will go to a program that helps families where both parents work? We all pay taxes for things that do not personally benefit us.

I do not have children, nor do I plan on having any. Still, I pay taxes that go to educating children. I would also happily pay taxes to cover universal pre-K and daycare. Moreover, I would happily support an Earned Income Tax Credit or something similar for families where one parent stays home. Housework and child care are actual work and should be compensated as such.

And other people pay taxes for things that help me more than themselves. People who have cars pay taxes for the public transportation I use to get around. We live in a society. 

Frankly, I am a lot happier paying for things that help children with my taxes than I am about paying for wars that kill them.

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