Food makes up 16 percent of the cost to raise a child, USDA reports

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, August 14, 2013 - A middle-income family with a child born in 2012 can expect to spend more than $240,000 over the next 17 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) annual report released today on the costs of raising a child.

The report, Expenditures on Children by Families, shows that a middle-income family with a child born last year will spend more than $240,000, or more than $301,000 adjusted for projected inflation, for food, shelter, and other child-rearing expenses until that child is 18 years old.

Lets Talk Food

In a call with reporters, study author and economist Mark Lino said annual expenses per child for a middle-income, two-parent family ranged from $12,600 to $14,700 in 2012, and that expenses increased for older children.

Lino noted that it is most expensive to raise a child in the urban eastern and urban western regions and least expensive to do so in rural areas. The disparity is in large part due to housing costs.

The data released today represents a 2.6 percent increase in costs from 2011. Expenses for child care, education, health care, and clothing saw the largest percentage increases related to child rearing from 2011. However, there were smaller increases in housing, food, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses during the same period. The 2.6 percent increase from 2011 to 2012 is also lower than the average annual increase of 4.4 percent since 1960.

Overall, the cost of raising a child increased 23 percent in real terms since 1960, Lino said.

"As the economy continues to recover, families are naturally cost conscious. This report gives families with children a greater awareness of the expenses they are likely to face," said USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. "The report is also a valuable resource for courts and state governments in determining child support guidelines and foster care payments."

During the teleconference, Concannon commented on the House farm bill proposals to reduce Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamp, spending by $40 billion over 10 years. He said of the record 47 million citizens relying on food stamps, seven million of those have no other household income.

Reducing SNAP “will have a real effect on the ability to provide fully and adequately for household members,” he said.

Acting Executive Director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Robert Post, emphasized that about 16 percent of child-rearing expenses go to food. He said food expenses are a significant percentage of child costs, but are behind housing, which represents one-third of expenses, and childcare and education, which makes up about 18 percent.

“There are no strict guidelines on how much parents should spend on food,” Post added. “But it is possible for people to eat healthier and spend less on food.”

He said USDA's low-cost food plan can help a family of four save $180 per week.

The annual report released today is based on data from the government's Consumer Expenditure Survey.

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