Here’s something Hillary Clinton said in the October 13, 2015 Democratic Presidential debate:
I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court, because I was practicing law. I know what it’s like. And I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms. (Clinton)
All of the Democrats agreed that Americans should be compensated for the burden of parenthood, e.g., with “family and parental leave to all of our families.” (Sanders; see also this posting on who should pay for said leave) And given the array of subsidies for parents already in place it seems that there is political consensus around the idea of paying Americans to reproduce.
My question for today is when and why this became necessary. At the time of the nation’s birth parents did not get any federal tax credits for having children. There was no income tax (the Sixteenth Amendment was passed in 1913). Parents also had to educate children themselves or pay a private school (Wikipedia says that it wasn’t until 1870 that “all states had free elementary schools.”). Real incomes were much lower than today. There were no disposable diapers, dishwashers, or washing machines. Yet “the average woman had over seven livebirths in 1800” (NBER). Suppose that five of those children survived through age 18. Is it truly the case that going to work in an air-conditioned office in 2015 and coming home to meet two children who have returned from their government-provided K-12 class and after-school program is actually “an incredible challenge” compared to doing home-based work while dealing with five children circa 1800?
[Separately, the candidates who showed up to the debate were apparently all in agreement that the way to alleviate the “incredible challenge” of dealing with a couple of kids is to pay mothers to stay home for three months following a child’s birth. Does that make sense? What about the remaining 17.75 years of supposedly “incredible challenge”? If I sit on a Carnival cruise ship for three months doing nothing am I then ready to face an “incredible challenge” for 17.75 years? As noted toward the end of my maternity leave posting, it seems as though it would be better to take all of the benefits given to parents (except for K-12 schooling) and load them into the 0-5 period. But even then I am not sure why extra benefits during the first three months will make all the difference.]
What do readers think? Compared to the days in which Americans were having kids without being paid, we have disposable diapers, a river of inexpensive imported clothing and shoes, home appliances, electric lights, take-out food on almost everyone’s way home from work, taxpayer-funded babysitting from age 5-18 (a.k.a. “K-12”), mostly taxpayer-funded babysitting from age 18-22 (a.k.a. “kollege”). Why is it that American parents bellyache about how tough it is and how they need to be subsidized by childless Americans?