I read several reviews of Alissa Quart’s Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, so I put in a request for it from the library. Evidently many people had read the reviews, since there were several people ahead of me waiting for the book.
It was a disappointment. Rather than analyzing the lopsided economics of our times, Ms. Quart, a new mother, complains about how expensive it is to have and raise a child. And she finds other people who have discovered, after the fact, apparently, that—gasp!--it costs money to have children. A lot of money.
You’d think this would not come as a surprise, but it seems never to have occurred to the vast majority of people Ms. Quart interviewed—mostly (but not all) women—that children are expensive.
I realize I’m on thin ice here—when I expressed the views I’m going to repeat here in Living Cheap I got a surprising amount of hate mail, and that was before the age of social media. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth reminding people that when you decide to have a child, that does not mean the world will become your babysitter and will suddenly cater to your every whim or tolerate the antics of your little darlings. I mentioned in Living Cheap that I’d been in a checkout line and a child began banging her mother’s shopping cart into my legs. And the little darling kept banging that cart into my legs. After three bangs or so I said, “Will you please stop that?” You’d think the mother would do something, but you’d be wrong. The mother said very loudly, “You’ll have to excuse her. She’s just a child.” Nope. I don’t have to excuse her, and I certainly don’t have to excuse her lout of a mother. That was probably thirty years ago, and I often wonder if that little darling is in prison.
Back to the book. Ms. Quart found herself financially strapped after the birth of her child. She and her husband are freelance writers who live in New York, so they could work from anywhere. They considered moving and checked out Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon, neither of which is known for low prices, and decided to remain in New York. If they had been serious about moving to a lower cost of living area, they might have checked out some cities that are less hip but nevertheless are charming and cheap.
Ms. Quart hops on to the women and unpaid housework bandwagon without evidently realizing that this is the Twenty-first Century, and many men have (understandably) chosen to remain single and manage to keep their homes clean. And there are gay male couples who are not always complaining about doing housework and asking for taxpayer funds to compensate them for keeping their places clean.
The first 252 or so pages of this 265-page book are one long whine fest. In the last thirteen pages Ms. Quart discusses “What is to be done?” By the time she gets to this point, she has already discussed the Universal Basic Income in terms of what a difference her parenting experience would have been had it been underwritten by the UBI. I’m not sure what part of “basic” she doesn’t understand. She goes further. Americans would receive extra money simply for having children. This would be in addition to the Child Tax Credit, which Ms. Quart erroneously says is worth up to $1,000 per child. It is now worth $2,000, and that change had been made well before this book was published. She also wants high quality subsidized day care.
She comes up with suggestions that would involve people doing something for themselves—coparenting and cohousing, for example. And of course (again) rethink gender roles—those selfish men are just not doing their share of scrubbing and toy cleanup as much as their female partners do. And finally (finally!) parents can start to talk openly about social class.
I wanted to like this book, but I just can’t recommend a book written by someone who is so entitled that she seems to think she is doing the country a favor by reproducing and should be compensated for doing so.
Admittedly, the country is in a demographic bind. Fewer people (wisely) are having children, and the country is aging. But there’s a solution for this problem.
We are very fortunate to live in a country that people want to move to. Many of these people are already educated and a great many already speak English. Three years ago I was in the Greek islands off the coast of Turkey and had a brief opportunity to come into contact with some Syrian refugees. The ones I met were middle class and many were fluent English speakers. These people and others like them would move just for the opportunities they’d have here that they don’t have in their current home countries, and they wouldn’t be asking the country to subsidize their offspring.
So before you make the choice to become pregnant, please make sure you can afford to have a child, and please remember the responsibility for seeing that child cared for and educated is yours.
© 2018 Larry Roth
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