The child tax credit is just the beginning

Follow the Norwegian Model for happier families

a baby laying on grass with mountains in the background

Photo courtesy of Eric Dregni
Eric Dregni’s son, Eilif, was born in Norway.

Concordia University

Hooray! The United States is finally following the Scandinavian model of instituting a regular child benefit now that the IRS just announced that families will be receiving up to $300 per month beginning in July. My wife and I experienced a similar system when we lived in Norway for a year. The government provided nearly free daycare and deposited about $150 each month into our bank account to help raise our newborn baby Eilif. 

In fact, the Norwegian government kept depositing money into our account even after we moved back to Minnesota—and would have until he was 18 years old. Out of guilt, I composed a letter to them, “Please Norwegian government, stop sending us all this money.” I sometimes regret sending that letter especially after doing the calculations: $150 x 12 months x 18 years old = $32,400. 

Right before the pandemic struck, my son Eilif turned 15, and we returned to Norway to discover what made this one of the happiest countries in the world. Inevitably, Norwegians we met responded that helping families with children was the key to stability and peace of mind. 

My Norwegian professor in Trondheim, Sissel Robbins, told us: “The key is to make working life manageable, especially for parents, to give generous parental leave and support child care.” I mentioned that Norway could easily do this because of all its oil money, she replied, “I think a lot of countries forget how important women and mothers are to the economy—in Norway they are actually far more important than the oil!”

Can we finally dispel the insidious myth that mothers supposedly profit from having children and bury Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” propaganda once and for all? Biden is turning these anti-poor falsehoods on their head by helping those most in need rather than giving the tax breaks to the rich with pipe dreams of “trickle-down economics.” Did anyone believe the fantasy that the wealthiest would share since they are supposedly the engines of our economy? 

a boy sitting in front of a log cabin

Photo: Eric Dregni
At age 15, Eilif Dregni returned to Norway with his parents.

Biden’s new child tax credit will help new parents at their most vulnerable and that money will go right back into the economy. To truly help families, though, we need to look to Norway’s other policies. Even though we only lived there for a year, folke-trygden, (the people’s insurance) covered all of our medical expenses. I assumed that the reason the United States hasn’t adopted socialized medicine is the cost. Jan Brøgger of the right-leaning Høyre Party in Bergen corrected me: “You spend 20% of your GDP in the United States on health care for bad results! We spend 10% and it’s great.” 

To check this out I spoke with the economist Tor Dahl who had slightly different numbers but the same result: “Health care in Norway consumes 9% of GDP; the U.S. consumes 17% of GDP and half of it is wasted.” Millions still aren’t even covered by health insurance in the United States. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Norway is one of the highest spenders on health care and it’s still significantly less than the U.S. spending. 

What’s more is that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t require maternity leave. When my wife, Katy, gave birth to Eilif in Norway, she would have gotten 42 weeks off from work at full pay, or 52 weeks at 80% of her salary, paid for by the government, not the employer. (Since then, seven more weeks have been added.) Because Katy hadn’t worked in Norway, the government helped us raise our baby by giving us a cool $5,000 at the birth, the $150 monthly child credit, and of course all medical expenses. Not bad.

When we returned to Minnesota, we eventually had two more children, with no extra governmental help here. The deductible on our insurance for the birth that we had to cover was more than $5,000—exactly the opposite of Norway and a $10,000 difference. 

The United States must make the child tax credit permanent, but this is just the start to help parents, especially mothers. As a young Swedish woman working in Geilo, Norway, told me, “If you are sick in Scandinavia, no one is left out. We take care of our people.”

This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Eric Dregni

Eric Dregni is the author of In Cod We Trust, Vikings in the Attic, For the Love of Cod, Never Trust a Thin Cook, and Impossible Road Trip. He is an associate professor of English and Journalism at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., where he teaches writing.