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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Social Context of Childrearing: Public Spending in Oakland, 1970-2000


This paper takes stock of spending in Oakland on children from 1970-2000, in order to gauge the trends in families’ “collective consumption.” Using funding for schools, parks, libraries, museum and the police as a proxy for public spending on children’s lives generally, I find that while monies for parks and the museum declined, funding for police and libraries stayed level. Schools offer a more complex case, in which increases in per-pupil expenditures may be mitigated by ballooning needs for special education services, and in which parent-raised funds contribute further to intra- and inter-district inequality. I propose the notion of “concentric rings of consumption” to analytically treat these parent-raised funds, which are not quite private but not quite public either. After reviewing a case of privatized educational services, I suggest that public spending decreases lead to three linked and overlapping outcomes: “compensatory spending,” or the individual’s choice to buy goods and services, “public squalor,” or the fraying of public services left to those who have no other option, and “ambient privatization,” or the perception of the first two of these trends.

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