In reply to the Nov. 6 front-page article on the pessimism of families with young children, one of the most important reasons for this pessimism is that the United States imposes the financial costs of raising children on parents rather than society as a whole.
We are both professionals, trained as lawyers, living in suburban houses, each with a wife and two children. But one of us lives in Germany and the other in the United States. To give just a few of the differences: The American pays more in health insurance if he has children. A German in the national health system does not. In addition, German national health insurance covers all the medical costs for children, unlike private insurance in America, which can leave hundreds of dollars of uncovered costs per year for a child. The German receives special payments from the government (600 marks, $450, per month) to cover the special costs of the first six months of a child's life, without regard to income. The German receives a child allowance until the child is 16 years old. The monthly payment for three children is 260 marks ($166). The allowance will continue if the child goes on to higher education. German universities are free. There is no concept of saving for higher education. The German watches with incomprehension the American TV ads claiming that parents of an infant should be saving hundreds of dollars a month for the child's college education. A German with three children gets a "family pass," which gives a 50 percent reduction in the cost of the nationwide rail system. The German constitutional court recently decided that the tax exemptions for children were too low at 3,200 marks. The court decided that the level should be 6,000 marks ($4,500) per year per child. Given that German marginal tax rates are higher than those in the United States, the value of even the present deduction is higher than the American, and the new value will make the deduction twice as valuable. A middle class German pays about $600 a year for child care for a 4-year-old. The American paid more than $4,000. Additional children are cared for at a reduced price in Germany. A German civil servant gets an additional pay of $200 per child per month. A German high school teacher is on the same pay scale as a government lawyer or physician.
A German working woman gets 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, six weeks before and eight weeks after birth. Prenatal care for the German is on paid time. Her job is protected for one year after her child's birth. The German gets a special tax deduction of $1,000 per year per child for eight years to build or buy a house. Americans often put off having children to buy a house. For a German, having children helps them to buy the house.
These allowances and payments are not based on income. Every German with children gets them. There is another entirely different set of payments for low-income families.
Political ideology about "preserving families" and "market competition" does not pay for food, clothing, shelter and education for children. A middle class German contemplating a third child can expect to pay no medical expenses and receive tax savings and cash payments of about $5,000 in the first year of a child's life. Germans are mystified by tales of family financial havoc caused by an additional child.
Germany and the United States are rivals in international economic competition. Germans have shown a willingness to make the needed investments in human capital. Children are America's most important "infrastructure," and they are being neglected far more than roads and bridges. The parents quoted in the article have good cause for pessimism. VINCENT BRANNIGAN Bethesda BERND BEIER St. Augustine, Germany