I am by no means an authority on parenting. As a person who can hardly make enough time to cook meals and do laundry during the week, I’m beyond underqualified to be a parent. I’m hesitant to say that I could even take care of a houseplant, much less a small, needy human being.
But while I’ve never been a parent, I have been parented for quite some time now, and I think I have enough self-awareness to know that being a parent is expensive.
I’m not the only one that thinks so. Homer Simpson, the quintessential American parent, expresses this very concern in the way only he can, saying, “I have 3 kids and no money. Why can’t I have no kids and 3 money?”
It costs more than just 3 money to raise a kid in this country.
Middle-income families typically spend around $13,000 per kid every year. If, like me, you think in practical terms, that’s enough money for over 4,000 Cookout milkshakes, 1,000 Bud Lights at Neyland or 400 UT parking tickets — a tall price to pay for a tiny person that kind of looks like you.
And if people are spending that kind of money on their children, you’d expect them to at least pull their weight. On the contrary, kids don’t even help out around the house as much as they used to. One study found that while 82 percent of parents did chores growing up, only 28 percent make their kids do them now.
All of this is to say that having a kid is economically irresponsible. There may have been a time when it was a good financial decision, giving you an extra hand around the farm or another employee in the family business, but that time has long gone.
In other social issues, however, economic responsibility is all the rage these days. People in all sorts of fields are using economics as their main argument in favor of generous social policies.
You’ll find journalists saying that building more affordable housing can boost a city’s economic productivity or that immigrants are in many ways good for the U.S. economy. You’ll see academics boasting that investing in public education generates more revenue for state and local governments. You’ll even run across cocky student columnists who say that spending more on our bureaucracies can actually bring in more money than it costs.
These arguments are all about money, and while they are valid and important, they can’t be sufficient on their own.
Why? Because this economic-minded reasoning is shallow, and it can put new policies in a bad position.
Take public education for example. Imagine we decide to spend more on education based solely on the idea that it will generate revenue for our government. A few years later, if the numbers show that it’s actually not paying off, then we would have no choice but to cut it back.
But deep down, we probably wouldn’t want that, right? We know that education has value beyond its cost-effectiveness, but that value can be harder to articulate. To rationalize keeping this policy around, our arguments would have to be rooted in something more essential, like the fact that improved education gives kids opportunities to learn new things and grow into thoughtful, self-sufficient adults.
All too often, though, we seem to be focused on the money alone. When we just talk about economic concerns, we can ignore and even forget our real policy goals. We keep putting our mouth where our money is, and if all we can talk about is money, our policies will fall short of what we really want from our society.
Again, I am absolutely not a parent, but I’d be willing to bet that most parents think there’s something to raising kids that makes it worth at least the $13,000 a year they spend, and telling them that they’re making the wrong economic decision would seem to miss the point entirely.
I’m not saying this financially responsible line of thinking isn’t valuable. I’m just saying that we have to be better at acknowledging that there are things, like parenting, that are not economical but are still worth doing.
Evan Newell is a senior majoring in chemical engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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