In a special section called “The Cost of Kids,” Businessweek.com tries to quantify the cost of bringing a baby to adulthood today. It contains some interesting information, although the magazine could use some help with its Nebraska geography.
The real problem, though, is that the section pushes that most reliable of hot buttons—middle-class financial anxiety—and provides little help to all these newly anxious prospective parents it helps to create. Instead, it provides the usual, unrealistic solutions, like suggesting that they move to Arapahoe, Nebraska.
In a précis for a slide show about the cost of children, the magazine suggests:
From adoption to auto insurance, health care to housing, raising children can cost parents more than $700,000 per child from birth through the age of 21. Take a look at the breakdown of the individual costs—and where you could save money.
The number is meant to shock, but closer examination reveals how it is jacked up by things most parents won’t need to worry about, like adoption, in vitro fertilization, and private school. How much it would cost for an in vitro adoption? A fortune, we bet.
The accompanying article offers a more pared-down tally:
A child is priceless—but raising one can break the bank. Children born in the U.S. today will cost their parents more than $338,000, on average, by the time they graduate from a public college. That’s according to BabyCenter.com, based on College Board and Agriculture Dept. data.
These forecasts make for sexy reading because we tend not to think in cumulative terms about something we invest in over twenty-one years - even less so when the investment is our progeny. Getting numbers that actually mean something is difficult because of regional differences in the cost of health care and housing, and wide-ranging variables in what a family and child might need, but Businessweek.com might have done more to narrow its cost range of $338,00 to $700,00.
Another article in the package, “Great Places to Raise Kids—for Less,” addresses the task of finding “family-oriented neighborhoods with the most affordable homes and the best schools.” With OnBoard, a New York-city based real estate research company, it ranks the top fifty towns.
The results spanned the country: 11 places in Nebraska, 7 in both Illinois and Ohio; 6 in New York; 4 in Tennessee; 3 in Michigan; 2 apiece in Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas; and 1 each in Alabama, Mississippi, and Oregon. And on a semirural patch of land seven miles northwest of Cincinnati, we found the clear winner: Groesbeck, an unincorporated suburb that shares its government, law enforcement, and school system with the Colerain Township.
Groesbeck wasn’t first in any of the five categories we judged, but a close look at the town and its people shows a community that provides a good measure of all the things a child needs to grow and prosper. It’s not the largest suburb of Cincinnati (it’s home to about 7,200 people) or the wealthiest (the median household income is $49,235, according to the most recent Census Bureau data). Pay Groesbeck a visit and you’ll find one-floor ranch houses and multifamily condo units lining the streets, with the occasional patch of farmland dotted with cows, chickens, and barrels of hay.
Yuck. Sounds like a nightmare to us, but there’s no accounting for taste.
The results are presented in a slide show called “Best Places to Raise Children, 2007,”
Now, we think Nebraska is a perfectly idyllic place. But the presence of eleven towns in Nebraska (Arapahoe, Waverly, Lawrence, Bartlett, Petersburg, Newcastle, Diller, Oakland, Loomis, Arlington, and Davenport) on this list of fifty towns from the entire country seems to be a sure sign that Business Week is reaching.
Geographical errors don’t help. Arlington, Nebraska, is about thirty miles north of Omaha, not fifty, and the plot on the map is in the bottom-center of the state, when it should point to where the town is, in the middle of the eastern side. Newcastle is in the northeast of the state, and the plot shows it in the southeast. The photo for Davenport and Waverly is the same, which cannot be, unless Nebraska is home to a parallel universe, as people in Oklahoma have long insisted.
These errors may be the fault of OnBoard, but still, if Nebraska is such a great place, where everyone should move, a bit more care is in order.
More importantly, the whole thing is framed in a way that makes it seem like people should actually move there. But everyone knows there’s a reason housing is so cheap—because people are leaving. People are leaving because they can’t get jobs.