Relative to its European peers, the United States spends virtually nothing on benefits for families with children.1 This dearth of family benefits leads to two cruel outcomes: it denies many people the ability to have the families that they want and inflicts financial ruin on many of those who go through with parenthood despite the lack of social support.
The prevalence of financial problems among families with children causes many would-be parents to have fewer children than they would prefer and causes some to forego parenthood altogether. A recent survey found that one-fourth of people between the ages of 20 and 45 had fewer or expected to have fewer children than they wanted.2 The most common reasons were economic: 64 percent said child care is too expensive; 44 percent said they can’t afford more children; and 43 percent said they waited too long because of financial instability.
When people do have children, they often struggle to afford child care, pre-k, and even everyday expenses. The effects of this social neglect are felt most severely by those on the bottom of our society. Twenty-one percent of American children live in relative poverty—a higher percentage than that of any European country.3
Current policy discussions around benefits that help families with children are fractured in strange and unhelpful ways. Ideas to expand child care and pre-k services tend to get grouped in with education policy or stand alone under the heading of “early childhood education and care.”4 Programs that provide public health insurance to children are categorized as healthcare policy.5 Paid leave proposals almost always seek to bundle leave for parents with leave for medical reasons and then wind up classified as women’s policy.6
These issue-area assignments are not wrong in an objective sense, but they create a muddled and rudderless policy framework. A more effective approach would be to bring all these policy ideas under the heading of family benefits and then pitch family benefits as having a simple unified purpose: making parenthood easy and affordable for everyone.
In Section One of this paper, I lay out a general theory that explains why having and raising children is so difficult in a laissez-faire capitalist system. In Section Two, I introduce the Family Fun Pack, a suite of family benefits that solves the problems identified in the first section. These benefits include free child care, free pre-k, free healthcare for children, and a child allowance, among other things.
Progressive candidates looking for a fresh platform would be wise to consider adopting the Family Fun Pack agenda. It is a coherent set of programs that conveys a simple message. These programs, which are common throughout the world, are extremely effective at reducing the burden of parenthood and especially effective at reducing child poverty.