Book Review: The Baby Boon --
How Family-Friendly America Cheats The Childless

- wadE

Some basic information before I talk about the book.

About the author: Elinor Burkett was a professor of history before becoming a journalist. She won numerous awards for her work at The Miami Herald and has written articles for The New York Time Magazine, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, and Mirabella. She most recently won the Front Page Award from the Newswomen's Club of New York for the article that inspired The Baby Boon. Her five previous books include The Greatest Show on Earth and The Right Women. She divides her time between the Catskills and New York City.

I could in my own words describe the book, but the information on the jacket does an excellent job, far better than I could. I'll include that here, and then add my own thoughts at the end:

Who stays late at the office when Mom leaves for a soccer match? Whose dollars pay for the tax credits, childcare benefits, and school vouchers that only parents can utilize? Who is forced to take those undesirable weekend business trips that Dad refuses? The answer: Adults without children -- most of them women -- have shouldered more than their share of the cost of family-friendly America. Until now

"Equal Pay for Equal Work" is one of the foundations of modern American work life. But workers without children do not reap the same rewards as do their colleagues who are parents. Instead, as veteran journalist Elinor Burkett reveals, the past decade has seen the most massive redistribution of wealth since the War on Poverty -- this time not from rich to poor but from nonparents, no matter how modest their means, to parents, no matter how affluent. Parents today want their child and their Lexus, too -- which accounts for the new culture of parental privilege that Burkett aptly calls "the baby boon."

Burkett reports from the front lines of the workplace: from the hallowed newsroom of The New York Times to the floor of a textile factory in North Carolina to a hospital in Boston. She exposes a simmering backlash against perks for parents, from workers who are losing their tempers and fighting for their rights. She spells about how tax breaks for the families with six-figure incomes are not available to childless people earning half as much. And she tells the dramatic story of how pro-family conservatives and feminists became strange bedfellows on the issue of pro-family rights, leading to an increase in workplace and government entitlements for parents -- at the same time as the childless poor lost their public benefits.

Americans are on a demographic collision course between the growing numbers of mothers in the workforce and the swelling ranks of a new interest group: childless adults. Armed with hard data and grassroots reporting, Elinor Burkett points the way to a more equitable future. With an inside look at what some companies are already doing to redress the grievances of the childless workers and a hard assessment of what the truly needy -- children and adults -- require in order to survive, Burkett fires the first shot in the battle to come.

Wow, sounds pretty heavy, doesn't it? Well it is.

To me, the book is a simple study in economics. When you give something (time, money, benefits) to one group you are taking them away from another group. While I'm liberal enough to believe in the limited distribution of wealth through taxes, I'm also libertarian enough to protest when those tax breaks are going to families with six-figure incomes.

Ms. Burkett identifies a myriad of contributing factors and the in-depth research to back them up. I won't bore you with the numbers (e.g. only 7 percent of the workforce is single mothers with children of preschool age, the various tax breaks that add up the more children you have and how they really only help the upper middle class, etc.). She talks about how those of us without children in the workplace shoulder the burden when someone takes maternity leave, or leaves early to catch their child's soccer game, and especially how those favors and opportunities for time-off are not reciprocated.

However, the details are just window dressing, the key is why this is happening. Why is the government giving poor adults and children the shaft by cutting out programs that help them, while giving tax breaks to people who can afford to raise children? One immediate thought is a classic numbers game. The government needs people. We need a next generation of taxpayers to help pay for Social Security and the retirements of those old white men who are in power. We need people for the age old reason of safety in numbers. The more Americans there are, the stronger we are! But do we really need more people? I think most of us would argue if anything, we're over-populated. Even if you don't believe that, why not open up more immigration? No, the key is that government believes that the wrong people are having kids. Highly educated white people are having fewer and fewer kids these days. When the government wants something (whether it's for farmers to cut back on their crop production, or to help out industry) they give subsidies, and that's exactly what the government has done.

Twelve weeks unpaid leave guaranteed by law. How many low income families (especially single mothers) is that going to help? School vouchers. How many low income families will be able to send their children to private school for $500? Child tax credits, tuition deductions, etc. Where does the money to give these tax credits come from? They come from the rest of us who don't have children!

The big problem is that people who get free money from the government certainly don't want to give that up. And when it comes to children, people feel that spending time with them is far more important than anything a person without children has to do. Here's the thing. You chose to have children; you understand that they cost money to raise, and take time to raise. Don't take my time and my money away to raise your children.

I highly recommend this book whether you have kids or you don't...whether you want kids or you don't. It's a truly non-partisan look at the policies, politics, and societal influences children and parents have had in the last 20 years.

- 08/12/2003

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