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Perspective | Is having a child in America becoming an unattainable privilege?

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As the nation begrudgingly settles into two years of a global pandemic, a glaring reality continues to emerge — the U.S. population is growing at its slowest pace in history with the lowest number of births since 1979; in North Carolina, more than half of the counties experienced more deaths than births in 2021.

While there are a plethora of reasons people of birthing age are opting out of parenthood, such as prioritization of education and careers, easy access to contraception, pandemic fears, and contentment with their current livelihood, a growing share of childless adults cite financial reasons and economic instability as a deterrent for having children or choosing to have fewer children. Having children in today’s society is becoming a social privilege and unattainable for many.

Costs of raising a child & childbirth have gone up; gender pay gap persists

The average cost to raise a child in North Carolina to the age of 18 is $175,690, with most of these costs occurring in the first few years of life. According to a recent report by Wells Fargo, “the cost [of child care] is overwhelming for most families, but still low paying for caregivers. One daycare center spot runs about $11,000 per year on average, or 14 percent of the median income of a household with a child under age six. Yet, the average pay for a childcare worker in the industry registered just $12.05 an hour in 2020, or $25,060 per year.” A common necessity for babies such as diapers costs a family $100 a month and formula can cost upwards of $243. Not only have the costs of caring for children skyrocketed over the years and exacerbated by the pandemic, but wage disparities are also putting pressure on families to rethink their choices.

Women continue to only make 83 cents to every dollar that non-Hispanic white men make, potentially losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over their careers. The amount is even less when factoring in race: Black women compared to non-Hispanic white men make 57 cents and moms of color make 58 cents for every dollar that non-Hispanic white men make. According to data from the Urban Institute, the median white household has ten times the wealth, over $170,000, compared to the median Black household of about $17,000.

The average cost to give birth in North Carolina is upwards of $13,000, putting additional economic hardships on lower-income households that often have less access to paid leave after childbirth. Economic security is out of reach for many, especially women and people of color, due to low wages, the high cost of child care, lack of paid leave, and pay inequity from wage disparities.

This raises the question that if only the rich are able to afford having children in America, what will the consequences and ripple effects be for the future of this country?

Economic solutions to support equity for families

Some opportunities that can close the gap and make parenting more equitable and attainable include:

  • Normalizing paid parental leave and on-site child care or subsidized child care so that people won’t have to choose between having a career and having children.
  • Paying a family-sustaining wage and raising the minimum wage to help workers properly plan and budget for their expenses.
  • Identifying and incentivizing ways to make early childhood education a financially viable career since the early childhood workforce is among the country’s lowest-paid and often predominately women and nearly 40% identify as Black, Asian, and Latine.
  • Requiring public disclosure of job posting salary information, like states such as Connecticut, Colorado, and Nevada do, so that the burden of negotiating salaries is no longer placed on women and people of color.

As we continue to grapple and dig deeper into the systems that have made the economics of having and raising a family a privilege, let’s continue to remain optimistic and committed to building a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being for every child and family in North Carolina.

Sumera Syed

Sumera Syed is an organizational equity officer at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. Syed’s passion for nonprofits stemmed from an internship with Project Vote Smart in Montana, which led her to do a master’s in public affairs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Since then, Syed has worked for the North Carolina Humanities Council, Partners Ending Homelessness, and Guilford Adult Health.