Text by Joshua Holland. Graphics and animation by Rob Pybus. This work was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and its Puffin Story Innovation Fund.
Last week, in Denmark, Malthe and Lærke Knudson had a baby girl they named Emma. That same day, the Robinsons—Dale and Beth—had a little baby in the United States. They called her Rachel.
Right now, they’re just two little babies keeping their parents awake at night. But Emma and Rachel were born in countries that have very different priorities, and that’s going to lead to pretty different futures.
It all boils down to this: Though Danes pay a lot more than Americans in taxes and government fees, they get a whole lot more back in social services.
As a result, Americans end up spending twice as much out-of-pocket for those social goods and services. Let’s see how that plays out over their two lives.
Early Childhood Education
In six months, Emma will probably enroll in preschool. By law, every 6-month-old Danish baby is guaranteed high-quality preschool, and parents can’t be charged more than a quarter of the cost of those services. Parents who can’t afford it? They don’t have to pay.
In the United States, kids from low-income families are often eligible for full-time Head Start programs. Even then, the program only has enough funding for a half-million slots nationwide. But the Robinsons make too much to qualify, so they’ll either have to park little Rachel with Dale’s mom, or one of them will have to get a second job to help cover the cost of daycare. That little luxury could set the Robinsons back as much as $22,000 a year.
It costs a lot to raise kids these days no matter where you live, but the Knudsons will enjoy a child benefit which starts at $225 a month. When Emma hits age seven, they’ll get $140 a month until she’s 17. That’s not a benefit just for poor people; everyone gets it!
Rachel, on the other hand, will have to start learning some cool tricks ASAP in order to get into a decent elementary school and prepare herself for a high school that will help her get into a good college.
Some American schools are world class, but others, often serving students from low-income families, can rank down there with those in developing countries.