From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
The luxury item of the 21st century: children

November 12, 2003 5:31 PM

Cecil Johnson writes about Elizabeth Warrern and Amelia Warren Tyagi's new book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke:

"Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse."

They contend that the reason can be summed up in two words: public education.

"Bad schools impose indirect, but huge, costs on millions of middle-class families. In their desperate rush to save their children from failing schools, families are literally spending themselves into bankruptcy," the authors write.

Families spend themselves into bankruptcy, the authors maintain, because middle-class families take on more mortgage debt than they can afford in order to live in neighborhoods with good schools.

"As parents increasingly believe that the differences among schools will translate into differences in lifetime chances, they are doing everything they can to buy their way into the best public schools. Schools in middle-class neighborhoods may be labeled 'public,' but parents are paying a kind of tuition by purchasing a $175,000 home within a carefully selected school district," the authors say.

Middle-class families can only afford to live in expensive homes in neighborhoods with superior schools if both parents work, the authors argue.

"And yet, once they have paid the mortgage, the car payments, the taxes, the health insurance and the day-care bills, today's dual-income families have less discretionary income, and less money to put away for a rainy day than did the single-income family of a generation ago."

More from the archive in Education, Sociology.

The luxury item of the 21st century: children (11.12.2003)

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Read the 5 comments.


I agree 100%. Thankfully where I live the public schools are very good and reasonable housing can be obtained for about 100K. My sister on the other hand living in St Louis faces the problem as described. To get into a GOOD school system (and there are some horrible ones in St Louis) their house (no where nearly as nice as ours) costed them well over 300K. I know that may not sound high to some but it seems astonomical considering her and her husband are both teachers making about 35K each. Add two children and all day daycare that exceeds $300 a week and I understand why their vacations consist of visiting relatives during the summer.

Thu Nov 13 2003 7:44 AM

Paul in OC:

So what's the solution? More money, like the teacher's unions want? Vouchers, like the Bush administration wants?

Republicans claim that more money isn't needed. Superficially, they look to be right. The United States is a leading nation in terms of per-student spending.

Where is the money going? Is "big government" wasting our precious resources, rather than using it to educate our kids?

We seem to have a similar problem in health care. How is it that Americans spend 31 cents out of each health care dollar on administration, while Canadians spend only 17 cents? I thought our system was supposed to be more efficient, because of the free market?!

Is the government too involved in health care, or not involved enough? Canada has a single-payer system, yet is far more efficient than the U.S. Why? Republicans would say that the problem is that doctors in the U.S. are more liable to be sued for high damages. Is this really it, or is the extra money going to the private insurance companies which stand in the middle, between consumers and their doctors? Just how big a cut are these big insurance companies taking?

Back to education. Maybe, the problem with public schools is that government should be more involved, not less. This doesn't mean more bureaucracy. It means more accountability.

My father used to teach in a Texas elementary school. He and his colleagues were under intense pressure to get the kids to score high marks on the standardized tests. (I think credit for this goes to Ann Richards, not Bush, although he happily and regularly takes credit for the work of others.) Now, the teachers didn't like this pressure, because they ended up "teaching to the test", but ultimately, if you have a good enough test, is this really such a bad idea? Without standardized testing, there is no accountability.

Reforming education is like succeeding at anything else. You set goals, measure your performance, figure out what's holding you back, make the necessary changes, and repeat forever.

Vouchers aren't the solution, although they are superficially attractive. They are an invitation for private corporations to come in and take a 30% cut.

Thu Nov 13 2003 11:51 AM


"Reforming education is like succeeding at anything else. You set goals, measure your performance, figure out what's holding you back, make the necessary changes, and repeat forever."

One thing that holds back education reforms is the NEA. They abhor the idea of the status quo changing unless it involves more money for teachers (maybe) and the NEA having more say in curriculum (we are trying to solve problems not make more). They also fight any attempts instill "measures of performance".

I agree with the idea of "teaching for the test, and if you have a good enough test, is this really such a bad idea" statement. My wife is also a teacher and standardized testing has never bothered her or the other teachers in my family.

To prove that more money is not the answer one only has to look to the KC Missouri school district. By court edict that school district enjoys a per student spending level about four times the rate of the rest of Missouri students. After over a decade of feeding this monster the the disctrict lost it's accreditation last year due to low test scores. It's also the only school district in the state operating without accreditation at this time.

Thu Nov 13 2003 3:13 PM


As for vouchers, I think it is something to be decided on a local level with local funds. Nothing the Federal government needs to be involved in, especially since federal funds only make up a miniscule part of actual classroom funding.

Thu Nov 13 2003 3:16 PM

Paul in OC:

Standardized testing is very valuable, but it's not a panacea. I think there are other measures which are also useful, such as the graduation rate, the percentage accepted into college, college grades, the percentage employed after graduation, and their average salary.

Some schools and some school systems are clearly mismanaged. Pouring more money in is like sending more troops to Iraq. It won't do any good unless there is a fundamental change in strategy. Other schools are well run.

Leaving public schools to be supported at the local level seems to be chiefly responsible for the huge disparity between the best and the worst public schools. I believe that all of America's children deserve an equal opportunity to become educated and achieve the American dream.

Fri Nov 14 2003 2:10 AM

Jim Gilliam
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