Dollars to diapers
The U.S. economic crisis serves as an opportunity to consider a return to two-parent, single-income families
CAN YOU save the U.S. economy by staying home and raising the children? Perhaps. During the next several years, the U.S. government and its citizens will have to make painful corrections to stave off further economic meltdown. To bring about full economic recovery, the solutions implemented cannot be limited to the financial sector but should encompass the way that Americans earn and spend their income. One fiscal area that has been strategically overlooked is the effect of double-income households on the United States' social and financial well-being.
The U.S. unemployment rate has been greater than eight percent since February 2009. Despite massive attempts by the government to stimulate the economy, little has been done to create new jobs. An alternative solution to job creation, however, would be to promote two-parent, single-income households in certain circumstances. A voluntary shift to single-income households could create numerous benefits for both the U.S. economy and society, as unemployment and underemployment could decline and parents would have the opportunity to become more involved in raising their children.
While it may appear that becoming a one-income household requires great economic sacrifice, for many families it would simply require a shift in priorities. Instead of focusing on increasing consumption, families would be improving their quality of life through greater access to family time. One parent could make the family the focus of his or her activities and work to improve the thrift and virtue of the family unit instead of simply trying to keep his or her head above water while juggling work and family responsibilities. The parent's hiatus from the work force does not have to be permanent. In many cases where young families are paying for multiple children in day care, however, it makes sense for one parent to devote his or her time to the home.
Real economic cost reductions could be realized from this model. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income for a full-time female worker in 2009 was $36,278, while the average cost by state of full-time, center-based infant care ranged from $4,550 in Mississippi to $18,750 in Massachusetts. In fact, in 2009 the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies reported, "The average center-based child care fees for an infant exceeded the average annual amount that families spent on food in every region of the United States."
Based on the NACCRRA research, the average cost of infant care for a family in urban Virginia was more than $14,500 annually for center-based child care in 2009. That represents 41 percent of salary for an individual making $36,278. If you add an additional four-year-old child, the cost of child care for that family would skyrocket to approximately $26,500 annually, or 73 percent of that individual's salary. This example is representative of the high costs of child care seen across the nation. In many cases, those costs virtually wipe out the nominal value of double-income households and do not even begin to factor in the intangible costs that inevitably would accompany a busier lifestyle, such as increased consumption of prepared foods and the use of preparation services such as laundry or yard services. What is worse, parents may be forced to try to cut costs by placing their children in less expensive and potentially worse-run child care centers.
Perhaps the most important cost saved by transitioning from a double- to a single-income home would be the opportunity costs associated with the time parents spend preparing for and attending work. Instead of spending more than half of his or her waking hours away from the home, the domestic parent could focus on running the household more efficiently and ensuring the children's emotional and physical needs were being satisfied properly.
While additional time does not necessarily translate into higher-quality parenting, the call to increase single-income households should include an appeal to increase civic virtue. The National Center for Education Statistics noted that "given a list of concerns that might impede parent involvement in schools, the barrier named by the highest percentage of schools was lack of time on the part of parents." Parents who stay home should feel a responsibility to volunteer at their children's schools and utilize their time to become positive influences not only in their own children's lives, but also in the lives of children who are not fortunate enough to have a stay-at-home parent.
As this nation examines the financial reorganization that is necessary to get itself back on track, political and social leaders should consider encouraging a return to single-income, two-parent households. This movement inevitably will require sacrifices in material consumption, but it likely will pay dividends by reducing unemployment, strengthening families and encouraging greater civic participation within schools and community groups. Am I asking for a return to the 1950s? Yes, but with several exceptions. This time around, both ladies and gentlemen should have the opportunity to experience the joy that accompanies being a stay-at-home parent.
Ginny Robinson's column normally appears on Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.