Amid all the crap about Dear Leader that dominates our news media day in and day out, there are sometimes some extremely important stories that slide almost unnoticed during the news cycle.
Such was the story last week when the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that the US birth rate had fallen to a 30 year low.
This triggered a memory of mine from way back that I read or heard someplace: The sign of a very sick society is a falling birth rate. Can’t remember where I heard it or saw it, but that has stuck in my mind as an indicator to watch for as a measure of the countries health.
It only makes sense when you think about it. When young people are in their fertile years most evaluate whether they want to bring children into the world based on their perception of how things are going and what the prospects for the future are.
Right now, for those in their child bearing years, prospects are pretty iffy at best. Amy Westervelt writing for The Guardian discusses some of the many reasons why the US birth rate would be falling:
“The reality is, for all its pro-family rhetoric, the US is a remarkably harsh place for families, and particularly for mothers. It’s a well-known fact, but one that bears repeating in this context, that the US is one of only four countries in the world with no government-subsidized maternity leave. The other three are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea, countries that the US doesn’t tend to view as its peer group.
Think millennials are our problem, shirking their breeding responsibilities because they’re too busy taking selfies? Show me your all-time low birth rate and I will raise you an all-time high student debt load (it hit $1.4tn this year). Millennials have an average of $37,172 in student loans when they graduate, a fact that has been blamed for their record-breakingly low home ownership. Generation Z won’t be much help either, given that about 40% of them are expected to default on their college loans when they can’t find jobs, according to Brookings.
Let’s see, what else is at an all-time high? Credit card debt. It hit $1tn in the US for the first time this year. Childcare costs are another record-breaker. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 33 states and the District of Columbia, infant care costs exceed the average cost of in-state college tuition at public four-year institutions. The few companies that offer discounted, on-site daycare have found that it more than pays for itself in tax breaks and retention and recruitment boosts, but it’s still rare. In the Fortune 100, only 17 offer any sort of on-site daycare. The US has flirted with the idea of subsidized daycare a few times, but a longstanding cultural notion that there is something inherently shady about daycare has kept us from ever really doing it, except during the second world war when we needed women to work. Perhaps if the birth rate gets low enough, we can get over our collective daycare aversion.
Guess what else is at an all-time low? Pay raises.Despite economic growth, since the 1970s, the hourly inflation-adjusted wages received by the typical American worker have grown only 0.2% per year. Which is basically nothing. Guess what though? Worker productivity hit a three-year high in 2017.
In the midst of the harsh economic reality facing parents and would-be parents in America is a looming physical threat: climate change. As the president and his EPA head parrot talking points from the fossil fuel industry, pointing to volcanoes and natural temperature cycles as the culprits for warming temperatures, the global scientific community tells us that we have essentially run out of time to do anything about it. That any children we have will be at a higher risk of dying in a super storm or a massive fire. That because a small handful of men decided that their own profits and comfort were more important than the rest of the world’s safety, any new humans that join the world will face greater challenges than the generation that came before.” (all bolding mine)
She pretty well nails the reasons why young folks are being very wary about having any children or possibly just one or two at most. You may also want to put the gun culture and a fear of school shootings as another concern.
The last time the birth rate was this low in the US was during the reign of Ronald Reagan. That should not be a surprise. While the rich thought times were wonderful, the rest of us not so much.
When you make a long term commitment like children, you want to make sure that everything is good to give that child the best environment to grow up. Except for the very rich, this is not an environment for raising children.