Children are good.
They may be sticky, loud and misbehaved. But that doesn’t make children, in themselves, any less good. It just makes them children—the adorable, needy, frustrating, chaotic and absolutely irreplaceable building blocks of society, and of human civilization itself.
But children are also costly. It’s not just about money, though money’s certainly part of it. Even if you shop for discount groceries and secondhand clothes and used books and so on, it adds up. Health care. Education. And car seats, oh, the car seats.
Children are also costly in terms of time, energy and focus. It can be hard for parents to find time for their own passions, and to maintain their shared relationship, which is the beating heart of the home. And even the kindest and most compliant children occupy a great deal of their parents’ worry and attention—and sometimes drive them simply batty.
It goes without saying that the joy of children—their own guileless glee and what they inspire in others—far outweighs all these costs. But more importantly from a public policy perspective, they are absolutely essential to the continuation of our society, economy and culture.
That is why families needed and deserved the federal child tax credit while the COVID-19 crisis was at its worst, and also why the program should be made permanent.
Since July, families have been receiving $300 a month for every child up to 5 years old, and $250 for kids 6 to 17. The credit is available to all families regardless of employment but begins to phase out at certain high levels of income. The pending Build Back Better bill would extend this arrangement through 2022; a separate bill introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) would make it permanent.
Distributing the credit monthly has turned it into a kind of child allowance that has transformed many families’ monthly budgets. While economists are deeply divided on the full magnitude of the impact, it’s clear that there are fewer families in dire straits than this time last year. But even for middle class families, the credit has given some breathing room—a respite from creeping precarity.
While this kind of monthly payment to families is new in the United States, it’s hardly a novelty around the world.
According to UNICEF, 108 nations pay their families a monthly allowance to help them with child rearing. And some more aggressive pro-natalist policies, such as Hungary’s, have shown modest success at reversing long-term declines in birth rates.
Finally, while there is evidence that some parents are dropping out of the workforce due to the windfall, if they’re using their freedom to spend more time with their children, that’s a positive effect of the policy, not a negative one. Not all socially valuable work is compensated by the market.
We invest in the future all the time in the form science, technology, the environment, and so on. In the child tax credit, we invest in the actual human beings who will make all those other investments worthwhile.