Lifting up from the policy detail, though, the bigger reason for conservatives to favor the Romney’s plan’s generosity is that we live in a very different world from 1996. Then, America had an overall birthrate that was consistently around replacement level, and a stubbornly high teenage birthrate in communities struggling with chronic poverty. It was reasonable, in that context, for welfare reform to focus on breaking a cycle in which teen pregnancy threatened to lead to lasting unemployment and subsidized dependency.

Today, the situation is different. The teen birthrate has plummeted to its lowest level in modern American history, and meanwhile the overall birthrate has plummeted as well, with Covid-19 delivering an extra fertility suppressant. (If the United States had just maintained its 2008 fertility rate, 5.8 million more children would exist today.) Neither political coalition is reckoning yet with the consequences of this fertility collapse, but we will all be living with its consequences — in stagnation, loneliness, alienation — for decades to come.

In this environment, it’s worth risking some small incentive to have and raise kids in non-ideal circumstances in order to create a more welcoming society for child rearing overall.