Ladies of Literacy
__________ SOCIOLOGY __________
A unique research project using state and University of Montana researchers to determine the cost of raising a child in Montana is under way at UM.
Sociology Professor Paul Miller and Ann Steffens from the Montana Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) are codirecting the study, which has two goals: (1) to determine the cost of minimum necessities for the overall well-being of a mentally and physically healthy child, and (2) to determine the cost of raising a child at income levels that can provide more than the minimum necessities.
This has never been done in the state, Miller says. In fact, Steffens says, the approaches used nationwide until now have relied on the national Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX) conducted every 10 years, and it isnt the best tool to use.
The CEX, as I understand it, is not designed to gather information on the cost of raising a child but rather the expenditures of households, Steffens says.
Furthermore, the CEX is largely based on intact, two-parent families, Miller says, while families that receive child support often are either single-parent families or blended families having at least one formerly single parent and his or her children.
Montana has had child-support guidelines since 1987. The study results will be used to make sure those guidelines produce child-support obligations adequate to raise a child in Montana, Steffens says. The researchers will review existing literature on the subject, price the necessities to raise a child and gather information from social scientists, economists, lawyers, Montana citizens and others, she says.
Miller and Steffens acknowledge that finding a definitive answer to the question of childrearing costs will be difficult because it would likely require observers to live with and record the activities of families.
Even if that were possible, every family is different, so more accurate estimates (than those based on the CEX) are probably the best we can hope for, Steffens says. Also, housing, food and transportation costs make up the bulk of household expenses for most families, so determining how much of each of those costs should be assigned or allocated to a child is difficult.
Another complication for the project is that parents ideas of what their children need vary by income level, Steffens says. Orthodontia is an example. While upper middle- and high-income parents may consider it essential for their children, low-income parents may not or cannot.
Miller expects the project to be finished by the end of January 2002. The final report will provide the comparative information and a recommendation for a national standard, such as the CEX, to which Montanas cost figures can be indexed for future updating, he says.
This project is funded in part under a contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Total funding comes to $172,414, with $163,793 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and $8,621 from the state.