Fraser Institute undervalues Canadian families by inaccurately assessing true costs

A response to The Cost of Raising Children

Seventy three per cent of mothers in Canada with children under the age of 16 are working mothers, and women still earn on average 30 cents less to the dollar than their male counterparts. The need for economic supports for Canadian families, like access to affordable universal childcare has never been greater. Yet in The Cost of Raising Children released August 2013 by the Fraser Institute, economist Christopher Sarlo claimed that childcare, along with other frivolities such as housing, are not costs to be considered when assessing the totality of costs associated with raising children. 

The Fraser institute has proved beyond a doubt that they can hold little credit as serious policy analysts. The report claims that it costs less than four thousand dollars a year to raise a child. In her response to the report CCPA’s Kate McInturff, Fraser Institute report leaves children out in the cold, reminds Canadians that, "The Fraser Institute report does not provide a more accurate and less subjective accounting of the minimum costs necessary to provide for a child. It excludes real costs required to care for a child in a manner that meets the legal threshold required by Canadian child welfare standards. It mixes cost-based estimates with expenditure-based estimates, in spite of dismissing the latter as they appear in other reports".

The cost of childcare in Canada (with the exception of Quebec) can easily be between 1100 and 1600 dollars a month. Just on that cost alone, for many families the burden of childcare is so great that many parents find it impossible to return to the workforce in a full time capacity simply because they cannot afford to. The result is that many parents, the vast majority of whom are women, are prevented from having meaningful careers and from maintaining economic independence – spending twice the time men do on average in Canada providing childcare. In some cases, a parent is forced to take lower waged, part time work or drop out of the work force all together to save their family the cost of childcare. Seven out of 10 part time, service industry employees are women and one third of those women report taking part time, lower waged work because of a lack of quality and affordable daycare.  

Katie Arnup from the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada comments in response that, "the Institute’s decision to omit any provision for child care costs is based on their argument that child care is an unnecessary or 'special' added cost. In fact roughly 70 per cent of mothers are working in the paid workforce, and demand for child care continues to grow.  Their claim that 'most' Canadian families do not need child care is equally unfounded. While it is true that only 1 in 5 Canadian children has access to a licensed child care space, this is a result of a failure in government policy and not a lack of demand.”

Sarlo also implies that housing is not a significant cost factor in his analysis. While acknowledging that some families may need to move from a one bedroom apartment to, perhaps, a two bedroom apartment, he claims that this can be done within the same cost bracket. Factors he does not consider are renter markets in urban areas with high cost of living and low availability rates or even the lack of social and subsidized housing available to low-income families. For any parents who have tried to move into more suitable accommodations for a growing family on a fixed income, they know all too well that Sarlo is out of touch with the challenges real Canadian families face.

Implicit in these omissions is the assumption that most Canadian families are wealthy enough to own homes with multiple bedrooms and find it easy to forgo an entire income for several years. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In Canada, women comprise more than half of the labour force and they also comprise more than half of those who live in poverty. Perhaps, most shocking, is the fact that 53 per cent of single mothers with young children are living below the poverty line. This is unacceptable.

Providing universal daycare would not only be a huge economic relief to Canadian families, but would enable working mothers to make real choices about whether to stay at home or return to work. Canadian families deserves legislation that protects childcare – a comprehensive committment to child care and early education rights, not an attempt to discredit the hard work of early childhood educators to support Canada’s next generation. Instead of downloading the cost onto families, and covering up the true cost of raising children, the federal government should be providing long-term, secure funding to provinces and territories for early childhood education and child care services.

The real cost of raising children for Canadian families includes child care, full time and meaningful employment for parents, and affordable housing. We can and must do better to help parents live in dignity and security.