Robyn Benson, PSAC

Fraser Institute--are you "kidding" me?

Hungry child.jpg

Hard on the heels of McDonald’s household budget for its underpaid employees—that left out water, clothing, gas, heat and child care, and “assumed” a hike in the minimum wage for good measure—the Fraser Institute arrives with the claim that a kid can be raised for $3-4.5K per year.

Christopher Sarlo (oh, that guy) makes the claim in a study that has already rightly become the butt of social media jokes—check out #FraserInstituteKidTips for yourselves.

As a mother myself, I was fascinated to learn that I could have raised my own children for so little. Alas, like the McDonald budget, some frills were left out: food, clothing, childcare and housing costs. Oh, they get mentioned, all right, but, like some kind of numerological magician, Sarlo just makes them disappear.

Most families cannot access daycare, for example. It’s costly, and often in short supply—and some are rich enough not to need it. So Sarlo simply decides not to factor it in.

Just as well for his cheap-child conclusions that daycare was left out of his equation, perhaps. Here’s a family that has relied upon it. $1600 per month. For one child. Here’s another. Small wonder that couples with children, according to Statistics Canada, account for half of all the household debt in Canada.

Young families, in fact, are in a serious bind. Two incomes today buy what one often did in the 1970s: effectively, the work week has gone from 40 to 80 hours. House prices have skyrocketed. The younger generations are finding it extremely difficult to get started, saddled as they are with student debt loads and a shrinking job market. And the older generations are often having, as a result, to keep the young ones at home longer, subsidize tuition, furnish a downpayment, and so on.

Indeed, inequality is steadily increasing in Canada, and has been for quite some time. The median income rose a modest 5% from 1976 to 2009, but at the same time the top 20% have been claiming an ever-larger portion of the collective wealth. The average income—again, beware of those averages—has risen 17%, but that reflects, not general well-being, but a concentration of wealth at the top of the economic ladder.

You don’t see any of this, of course, in the Fraser study: it just adds insult to economic injury by publishing these fanciful figures, which miss so much and so much of the real costs of having a child. Sarlo doesn’t make comparisons with the past, ignores today’s horrendous economic context, and eliminates factors to arrive at his rosy $3K-$4.5K numbers (while suggesting that poorer families could get by on even less per child). It all sounds suspiciously like Peter MacKay’s public estimates for the F-35, which left out operational costs.

No wonder young couples are simply choosing not to have children. As a commentator on CBC yesterday from the Vanier Institute for the Family wryly noted,, two glasses of milk a day would account for 10% of the Sarlo-costed annual expenses for a child. “Please, may I have some more?” No.

As for the additional housing costs that having a child may require, he just wishes them away:

[A] lower income couple that cannot afford a house may or may not require additional space when they have an infant child. More space may be needed for toddlers and school age children if the family remains in an apartment. But, that family may, by then, be in a different financial situation. It is not clear what, if any, extra amount needs to be assigned for housing costs.

And the increased “operating costs?” Fuel, hot water and so on? Well, he says, we should count them, but he never quite gets around to it.

The Fraser Institute—which we’ve been subsidizing with our taxes since 1974, by the way, as a charitable organization—is what passes for the intellectual voice of conservatism in this country. But all of its fancy number-magic won’t make it easier for young parents struggling in today’s harsh economic climate to raise healthy, well-adjusted children.

Go ask one about the sacrifices involved. But, out of simple kindness if not self-preservation, don’t show them the study and tell them to tighten their belts.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on August 28, 2013 2:18 PM.

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