Monday, May 23, 2011

Depression deserves government support

by Bethany Hansen

Why having happy children may be the best way to reduce long-term healthcare costs.

According to, nearly a quarter of federal expenditures go to healthcare. And the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that healthcare spending as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will increase from its current rate of 15 percent to nearly 50 percent by 2082. Government officials at all levels should keep these figures in mind when considering policies about mental health. A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses a study which found that treating depressed mothers helps their children too.

Depression in children, the article says, often manifests itself as anxiety, irritableness, and disruptive behavior—and surely these symptoms cause chain reactions such as doing poorly in school or losing friends. Also,

Children are particularly vulnerable to parents' depression in the first year of life when their brains are rapidly forming connections. When parents are withdrawn or unresponsive, attachment and bonding are affected.

"As early as two months of age, the infant looks at the depressed mother less often, shows less engagement with objects [and] has a lower activity level," a report last year in the journal Pediatrics says.

So from the very beginning, children of depressed mothers are put at a disadvantage. Governments have an interest in having productive, happy citizens as well as in saving health care costs. Treating depressed mothers may have a dual advantage of benefiting depressed children, which may be a worthwhile investment.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Carrying the burden: how much is too much?

Paying personnel is often the most expensive part of a budget. Curbing benefits or asking public servants to pay a higher percentage of their benefits produces a heavy burden on a significant portion of society; however, according to this Wall Street Journal article, adopting the latter policy may actually save state and local governments’ budgets more money than enacting budget cuts.

It makes me wonder “how much is too much?” Public workers often earn lower salaries but have more dependable pension benefits than their private sector counterparts. Additionally, since public workers make up such a significant portion of the working population (I’ve read 10-15% in the United States and up to 25% here in France), increasing the cost of pension plans could be construed as an effectual excise tax on a specific portion of the population.

How will forcing public employees to pay more of their pension benefits affect their current spending? Employees will likely spend less in the short run because they have less spending power, which may substantially lower sales tax revenue in their cities of residence. At the same time, more of their potential spending power will be tied up in financing their retirements, leaving them with a net gap for discretionary spending in the short run. Before enacting this policy, we would need to forecast the projected loss in sales tax revenue and compare it to the net savings in having public employees foot more of the pension bill.

Do you believe it is fair to force public employees to pay a higher percentage of their pension benefits in times of recession in order to balance budgets? How does this “tax” on public employees affect the greater tax-benefit linkage for other public programs? Is this what we expect of responsible government?