Punishing Irresponsible Parents and Punishing the Children of Irresponsible Parents

by Mike Kimel

Punishing Irresponsible Parents and Punishing the Children of Irresponsible Parents

Not long ago, my wife came home a bit shocked. My wife has a small business: she buys houses, fixes them up, and puts renters in them. If I may brag about my wife a moment, I note she buys well, is good at fixing houses up, and charges slightly below market prices. The result is that she never has vacancies and that results in pretty good returns year in and year out.

Anyway, it seems she had been speaking to one of her tenants. At some point in the conversation, the tenant mentioned that her sister – a single mom on various forms of social welfare – had recently had another child with the specific purpose of getting increased assistance.

My wife’s politics, like my own, are  best described as just slightly left of center. (If you’ve read much of what I’ve written, you probably realized that we tend to reach our conclusions after taking a look at what the data says.) The tenant, as I understand it, also appears to be slightly left of center. But it was evident to the tenant that her sister was making a bad decision on many levels. From a financial perspective alone, despite the increase in assistance (welfare, food stamps, housing, etc.), over the long haul, raising a child costs more than that. Which is why, when some blowhard like Rush Limbaugh, says there are people out there having children they cannot afford for financial reasons, it sounds crazy. But sometimes those blowhards are right.

Which raises a question. What do we do about it? There are plenty of single parents with no prospect of having enough income to keep themselves afloat, much less a family, having additional children while on social assistance. There are plenty of men out there with no marketable skills whatsoever who have fathered multiple children, and then father more while on social assistance. What is worse, the problem is to some degree self-perpetuating. A child raised in squalor by parents who make bad, short-sighted decisions is, in many instances, not developing the skills necessary to do better when he/she reaches adulthood, including decisions about whether and when to have and raise children.

So there is a dilemma… in general, it makes no sense to incentivize or reward people who have few or no marketable skills or prospects for having children. On the flip side, without such support, the children they do have will be raised in worse conditions than they already are.

If there is a real world solution to this problem? Is there a way to ensure that children who are in a bad situation through no fault of their own are well cared for and, at the same time, that nobody benefits financially, receiving rewards from the public purse for having more children than the number for which they could possibly provide good care? And yes, I recognize that there are success stories out there – a single parent raises several children, one of whom becomes a basketball legend or a well-known entertainer jumps to mind – but how many of those are there in the scheme of things?

A few closing comments:

1. I really don’t know how to write this post. I’m more used to looking at statistics involving taxation and economic growth, and this was different and, frankly, uncomfortable to write. I tried to be as straightforward and inoffensive as possible while writing it, and if I failed, please bear in mind what I was trying to accomplish.

2. If you want to leave a comment, please do. But please stick to real world suggestions. Real world means practical, having any likelihood of having political support and being legal. Simply declaring one’s children a bank and getting bail-outs from the Fed and the feds doesn’t qualify.