kitchen table math, the sequel: Rubber Room

Monday, February 23, 2009

Rubber Room

via Jaye Greene

"The biggest problem that we face on a day to day basis is the discipline and the lack of disciplinary consequences."

This is the biggest problem students and parents face, too (arguably), and it is a major reason why middle class families with children have been at high risk of banktupcy for years now.

Here's Elizabeth Warren:
The rise in housing costs has become a family problem. Home prices have grown across the board (particularly in larger urban areas), but the brunt of the price increases have fallen on families with children. Our analysis shows that the median home value for the average childless couple increased by 26 percent between 19874 and 2001—an impressive rise in less than twenty years. (Again, these and all other figures are adjusted for inflation.) For married couples with children, however, housing prices shot up 78 percent during this period—three times faster. To put this in dollar terms, in 1984 the average married couple with young children owned a house worth $72,000. Less than twenty years later, a similar family bought a house worth $128,000—an increase of more than $50,000. The growing costs made a big dent in the family budget, as monthly mortgage costs made a similar jump, despite falling interest rates….

Why would the average parent spent so much money on a home?


For many parents, the answer came down to two words so powerful that families would pursue them to the brink of bankruptcy: safety and education. Families put Mom to work, used up the family’s economic reserves, and took on crushing debt loads in sacrifice to these twin gods, all in the hope of offering their children the best possible start in life.

The best possible start begins with good schools, but parents are scrambling to find those schools.


Everyone has heard the all-too-familiar news stories about kids who can’t read, gang violence in the schools, classrooms without textbooks, and drug dealers at the school doors.


So what does all this have to do with educating middle-class children, most of whom have been lucky enough to avoid the worst failings of the public school system? The answer is simple—money. Failing schools impose an enormous cost on those children who are forced to attend them, but they also inflict an enormous cost on those who don’t.


Allison said...

I like Megan McArdle's take on Warren better, actually:

Warren has an intriguing thesis: that women going into the workforce has resulted in few real consumption gains to families with children because all the money is going to childcare, and to bidding up the price of houses in good school districts. Meanwhile, families are more fragile, vulnerable to outside events, because Mom no longer functions as an all-purpose backstop. Meanwhile, the government is not providing the things those families need: childcare, high quality education, a more generous safety net, health insurance. The result: more bankruptcies, less financial security. The talk is provocatively titled "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class: Higher Risks, Lower Rewards, and a Shrinking Safety Net"
As you can imagine, this thesis is extremely beloved of liberals, who like its endorsement of more government benefits, while ignoring the fact that this could equally well argue for having women stay home.
Nonetheless, I think it's an interesting thesis, and having read the book, I find it eminently plausible. The only problem is that it does not actually seem to be true.

Here are the rest of McArdle's posts on the subject:

Catherine Johnson said...

You know -- I've just skimmed McArdle's posts on the subject, but they don't seem to address what is the central claim for me, which is that married people with school-age children are suffering the highest rate of bankruptcy (or were when Warren did her study), and that these bankruptcies are being driven to a large degree by decline in public schools, and in public confidence in public schools.

McArdle seems to be focused more broadly on the notion that the middle class is being squeezed, not that a particular segment of the middle class is wildly over-extended on mortgages because we now believe that there are only a handful of good schools & those schools are located in the "leafy suburbs"," as Mike Petrilli put it.