The American Child Allowance: A (very partial) history

Logging into my bank account, I noted with fleeting but pleasant confusion the arrival of two mysterious payments of 316 euros (about $410) each. The remarks line said “accommodation schoolbooks.” My confusion was not total. On looking at the payor — the Sociale Verzekeringsbank, or Social Insurance Bank — I nodded with sage if partial understanding. Our paths had crossed several times before. I have two daughters, you see. Every quarter, the SVB quietly drops $665 into my account with the one-word explanation kinderbijslag, or child benefit. As the SVB’s Web site cheerily informed me when I went there in bewilderment after the first deposit: “Babies are expensive. Nappies, clothes, the pram . . . all these things cost money. The Dutch government provides for child benefit to help you with the costs of bringing up your child.” Any parents living in the country receive quarterly payments until their children turn 18. And thanks to a recently passed law, the state now gives parents a hand in paying for school materials.

At the crux of the Netherlands’ child care and family policies is its child benefit program. This program … disburses quarterly payments to every parent of children under 18 in the country. This program is a vivid illustration of sentiment not just in the Netherlands, but across the European social democracies: “We have made a fairly basic decision,” says Valgard Haugland of Norway’s Christian Democratic Party (Reid, 152–153), “We have decided that raising a child is real work. And that this work provides value for the whole society. And that the society should pay for this valuable service. Americans like to talk about family values. We have decided to do more than talk; we use our tax revenues to pay for family values.” This philosophy is the moral underpinning beneath European child care policies: that raising a child is real work with tangible social benefits, and that it is beneficial to society as a whole to pool funds together to aid the task of parenting.

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