Reproductive Economics

I love my son. This post is not about whether or not I love my son. It’s not about love or feelings. This post is about money and the economic costs of having a child in the United States, particularly as a woman or woman-read person. Do not for one moment think my pointing out these costs says anything about my love for my child, or that love should make these costs something I never speak of. Such thinking harms children most of all. 

The United States has very weak worker protections. 28 states are “Right to Work” states, which really mean an employer’s right to fire for just about any reason. While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to fire someone for becoming pregnant, most workers don’t know this, and don’t have the means to take it to court. It’s also unlawful to refuse to hire someone because they are pregnant or may become pregnant, but it’s difficult to prove an employer did so. 

If a pregnant worker manages to get or keep a job, federal law may not provide for any maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 only applies to full time workers at firms with more than 50 people, where the employee has been for the past twelve consecutive months, and where the employee has already put in at least 1,250 work hours. Then and only then are birth and adoptive parents granted twelve weeks of unpaid leave. I went back to work the day I was discharged from the hospital, wearing my baby in a sling. 

Prenatal care, labor, and delivery all have really variable expenses depending on location, individual pregnancy complications, hospital rates, and whether the birth is vaginal delivery or cesarean section. The costs range from $9,000 to $250,000, with an uninsured average of $30,000 for vaginal and $50,000 for cesarean delivery. Those are huge, huge costs: a middle class annual salary and several years of lower class earnings, used up in a matter of days. 

I haven’t yet calculated a single diaper, pacifier, bottle, breast pump, bassinet, car seat, carrier, play pen, stroller, or diaper bag. I haven’t included infant Tylenol and teething rings and baby food and board books and nipple shields and lanolin and bibs and burp cloths. I haven’t calculated a babysitter, nanny, or daycare for when the parent goes back to work, or the complete loss of their salary when they realize their take home after childcare would only he $20 a week. I’m not even talking about any expense past the first few months of a baby’s long life. 

When Bernie Sanders, Heath Mello, and other men act as if reproductive rights ever could be separated from economic rights, I have to wonder what United States are they living in?

The United States I’m living in has pay gaps between men and women, whites and people of color, fathers and mothers, thin people and fat people, abled people and disabled people. The United States I’m living in makes teeny tiny unemployed individuals sue giant corporations to prove their rights were infringed upon, and doesn’t tell them how. The United States I’m living in is the only “first world” country without paid maternity leave. The United States I’m living in punishes few things worse than fecundity. 

For half the adult population and all the children reproductive rights is probably the most important economic issue. We’ve seen this the world over: when people have legal access to safe family planning, including abortion, the economy of the nation and the people improves. It is true in southern Africa and in northern Europe. It is true here too. We cannot have two parties of white patriarchy without descending into pure Nazi hell for fucks sake. 

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