New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking an idea from Mexico and plans to employ it in the greatest city in the world that still struggles with a tough disconnect between wealth and poverty as well as the continued wide divide between children and privilege by paying parents to take care of their children:
New York is searching for new ways to fight persistent poverty, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Commission for Economic Opportunity has recommended useful reforms. To encourage families to participate in these programs, the mayor hopes to recruit private donors to provide parents with a cash incentive to make the right choices for their children — like taking them in for regular checkups and making sure they stay in school.
Here’s how it works in Mexico. It looks like the onus for success falls directly on the mother’s shoulders:
The idea is based on a highly successful Mexican
antipoverty program, known as Oportunidades, that is now being tried by
at least 25 other countries. Mexico began Oportunidades in 1997. Today
it covers one in four Mexican families, helping virtually all the
country’s poor. The average family gets $35 a month, about a quarter of
the rural household income. Families with many children in school can
get up to $153 a month, a ceiling imposed to remove the incentive to
have more children.
To get payments for food, mothers must bring their children in for
regular health checkups and attend informative talks at health centers.
Mothers also get cash if their children attend school at least 85
percent of the time. The payments start after third grade and go
through high school, rising each year as dropout rates get higher and a
child’s forgone earning potential is higher. Because checks go directly
from the central government to mothers whose families meet the
requirements, administrative costs and the chance of corruption are
Such a program can be ripe for exploitation and you fight that kind of insidious siphoning of resources with ongoing oversight:
From the beginning, Oportunidades built in rigorous
evaluation. Those studies have shown that it does focus its help on
Mexico’s poorest people, and they are benefiting. Children are bigger
and healthier. Oportunidades has also cut child labor and led to more
schooling. In rural areas, the number of children starting high school
increased by 85 percent.
Is it a sad moment in the history of children that we must now “make it
pay” for parents to tend their children?
Has the family unit become so frayed by the modern world that only
government-sponsored bribes can be used to ensure proper school minding
and regular health care?
Will the tables of payments turn later in life when children must then
be paid to take care of the health needs of their parents in old age?
Are good deeds and proper behavior now open to the highest bidder?
Will we soon require a minimum wage for kindness and responsible
Have we crossed the line into an eternal expectation that all proper
deeds now come attached to a price tag?