The problem with "Tax the Childless"

There's a debate raging across the interwebz, my friends, about a proposal to hike the tax burden on childless people by providing even more tax breaks to parents. Some disagree, vehemently. How should you wade through both sides to form an opinion in a scant amount of time on your lunch break? That is why you have me.

I have three kids. We're done-done-done having babies, unless you ask my husband who says to me about every other day, "maybe we'll have a fourth!" By my personal standards, we're a huge family already, hence the running joke that we're the liberal Duggars despite being 16 kids short. Maybe my husband has a point though. If anyone is going to have four kids, it may as well be us.

I don't work outside the home for various reasons, but it breaks down to these factors: 1. The cost of childcare would nearly eclipse my income for the type of job I could get. 2. The job I had before kids that would exceed childcare expenses also required 70-80 hour work weeks, late nights and now-stale professional contacts (although I am currently marginally employed as a freelance writer)  3. I feel I'm particularly good at raising kids, in that generally speaking they are well-behaved, clean, curious and supposedly learning ballet, if you count running around in tutus twice a week as culture. Oh, and 4. My partner is willing and able to support us.

That last part is very important. (Read my article about stay-at-home-moms raising kids without that factor here.)

The tricky reality of raising children right now is it's almost a luxury. If every American were financially prudent, baby-having would be the business of the 1%. The cost to raise a child exceeds $200,000 and that doesn't include college. Speaking of college, when I think of putting three kids through a four-year university I break out in hives. I've got their 529 plans a-brewin' and I lay awake at night thinking about it.

Consider, though, who it benefits when it comes to my children's college education. Taxes pay for public school in the vague social agreement that a better educated population benefits the rest of society, so why is college education the burden of the parents to the detriment of their own retirement?

As a matter of fact, the more education my children get, the more likely they are to move away and benefit other communities and lives besides my own. Educated people have options. No one has to take care of their parents.

Who does it really benefit that my kids are strong, kind and educated people? It's not me. If I were thinking only of my own interests, I'd maybe have one child for the intangible benefits (love! I get to play Santa!) and then I'd focus on my career and retirement.

So why do families have subsequent children? To have a sibling for the first child? Why do families have more than two? Why do people have more than three? Why do people have 19 kids and counting?

The answers to these questions are, for me, that I have found my niche to be productive in society. I don't work as a nurse, who cares for the sick. I'm not a contributor to the arts. I'm not a teacher, devoting most of my waking hours and sanity to educating future leaders and public servants. I'm not a leader or public servant myself. My job, in this rather dystopian reality, is to make people. I'm hopefully making the right kind of people - educated, sensitive, law-abiding human beings with a sense of public responsibility. Also, my crafts are off the hook. (Before you suggest we adopt, we've explored that. I have a draft written of my complicated findings, but thus far, I'm too terrified to hit publish.)

People who see things the way I do argue parents should be given a tax break. That leaves childless people bearing the burden of other peoples' children even more than they do. Homeowners fund public schools and libraries (many of which cater to children's programs) whether they like it or not. Parents already get tax deductions for children as it is. Since raising a family in the ideal way already seems to be the stuff of the wealthy, why should childless people (who may very well be childless for financial reasons) be stuck with the bill?

It's an interesting debate. Normally I have a hands-down opinion about the news, but I'm on the fence about this. The way you feel about it will have to do with how you see children: a worthy investment in the future, or a burden on the resources of the present.

Are huge families only a problem when we don't agree on what a good person is? I'm not down with the sexist, evangelical nature of the Duggar clan but maybe my feminist, vegetarian, democrat family could use a few dozen more infants.

Or just a fourth.

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My kids, the future hoot owls of America

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Filed under: Large liberal family

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