As my regular readers know, I write almost exclusively about political and economic issues. I rarely address social issues. But today I’m going to talk about a social issue, because I believe it’s going to have far-reaching political and economic impacts on the U.S.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) branch called the National Center for Health Statistics recently released a report analyzing the U.S. birth rate for 2018. (Why they’re just now releasing 2018 numbers I have no idea. I’ll leave that for someone else to figure out.)
Anyway, they reported that the U.S. birth rate declined in 2018—the fourth year in a row it’s dropped. And the analysts at the CDC say early indications are that it dropped again in 2019.
Experts can’t agree on the “replacement rate,” the number of children each woman of childbearing age (15 to 44, according to the CDC) needs to have to maintain the population at a steady number. The CDC says it’s 2.1 children. Other researchers say it could be as much as 2.3.
I’m inclined to go with the higher number, because from generation to generation, not all women reproduce. Some are unable to have children, for a variety of medical reasons. Others make a voluntary decision not to have children. Still others die (from disease or accidents) before producing offspring.
But according to the CDC, that’s a moot question. The U.S. birth rate in 2018 was 1.73 children for each woman of childbearing age. That’s the lowest level in more than three decades, and well below even the lowest estimate of the replacement rate.
The report goes on to break the numbers down by a variety of factors like race, age, and even educational levels, but I don’t think any of that is significant to the overall problem, which is that America, as a nation, is disappearing.
Incidentally, this isn’t exclusively an American problem. Birth rates in every first world, industrialized nation have fallen below the replacement rate. I’m mainly going to address implications for the U.S. in this Commentary because that’s what will affect us first and the most.
Before we look at the economic and political implications, though, it might be helpful to look at why the birth rate is declining—because they’re reasons that I don’t believe are likely to change, at least in the foreseeable future.
There seem to be three factors. The first is that people are waiting longer to get married. Half a century ago, in 1970, the median age for women getting married was 21. Today it’s 28, a seven-year increase. For no particular reason, that same seven-year increase applies to men. In 1970, the median age for men getting married was 23. Today it’s 30.
Why are they waiting longer? That’s the second factor. Young people today want to establish themselves, professionally and financially, before getting married and having children.
The third factor is that young people today are more cognizant of the cost of raising and educating children. They would rather have one or two children and give them a relatively affluent upbringing and education, than to have three or four and struggle to feed, clothe, and educate them.
A declining birth rate means that the average age of the U.S. population is increasing. Most of the post-WW2 “Baby Boomer” generation is still living. As they die off, there are fewer young people being born to replace them.
That’s already beginning to strain our Social Security system. The first Baby Boomers reached retirement age in 2008, and the number retiring has increased every year since then.
As most of you know, the Social Security system is what accountants call an “unfunded liability.” There’s not a multi-trillion dollar bank account out there to cover all those SS checks that are being mailed this month. The checks are covered by the Social Security withholding deductions being taken out of payroll checks this month. Any shortfall is covered out of the General Fund, which is a sort of slush fund to cover unbudgeted items.
Every election cycle the Social Security problem becomes a campaign issue, and will inevitably become one this year. So far, no workable fix has been found. Until a significant portion of the Baby Boomer generation dies, though, we’re going to have fewer and fewer working people supporting more and more retired people.
Then there’s the problem that a declining population buys fewer cars, houses, and other expensive items. They buy fewer fishing boats, motor homes, and travel trailers. They take fewer luxury vacations. They need fewer doctors and hospitals to provide medical care. They take fewer medications. They need fewer lawyers to handle legal problems.
As a population ages, they spend less money. There are two reasons for that. One, they’re past their maximum acquisitive years. They’ve finished their education; bought a house; bought two cars; bought recreational “toys” like a boat, a motor home, or a timeshare. About the only major expense they have ahead of them is educating their children.
Two, they’re now saving as much money as possible for their retirement.
And that leads to another complication. Over time, the average American lifespan has increased—maybe by just by a month or two, but decade over decade it’s going up, not down. So a couple retiring at, let’s say, 65 years old, knows that they have quite a few years ahead of them—maybe fifteen, maybe more. To make sure their money lasts as long as they do, they try to spend less
A declining population inevitably means a slowly contracting economy. Companies become less profitable. Dividends are reduced. The stock market goes down. Not crashes, mind you, but slowly loses value, maybe one or two percent a year.
LAF Comment: I’m invariably going to reveal some of my biases in this section. I’ve lived a long time, seen a lot of things, and formed certain opinions about how things are. I want to emphasize that you have every right to disagree with me. I also want to emphasize that I have every right to my biases and my opinions.
Comments are turned on at the end of this Commentary. Please feel free to leave a comment.
As you can see from the foregoing, the key to a robust economy is an increasing population. So if our “native” population is declining, how do we cause the population to grow? The answer, obviously, is immigration.
But immigration is one of the most politically-charged topics in our government today. There are factions that just want to throw the gates open and say, “Y’all come on in!” We only need to look at nations like Germany and Sweden to know what a disaster that would be.
President Trump has said we need a “merit-based” immigration system. I agree. If we allow people to come into this country, we should have some assurance that they are going to make a positive contribution to our economy, not be a drag on our welfare system.
For example, the nation currently has a shortage of qualified welders. Welders from other countries who can pass a comprehensive welding test, and who want to stay here and become citizens, should be given a resident alien visa, which is also a work permit.
If they just want a good-paying job for a few months or a couple years, they should be given a temporary work visa.
Whichever status they are admitted under, they should be allowed to bring their immediate family—spouse and children—into the country with them. Note: immediate family only. No one needs forty or fifty of their grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews, as our present immigration policies permit.
If they want to stay and become citizens, the entire family should be given whatever help they need to qualify for citizenship. Classes in English as a Second Language, American History, American Government, whatever they need.
It should be part of their admission contract that neither they nor any members of their family will qualify for welfare, free healthcare, food stamps, Section 8 housing, or any other form of public assistance.
Another political implication is how the new citizens will vote. Places like Texas are maintaining a Republican majority by the slimmest of margins. The Democrats—particularly the Democrat Socialists—offer of all sorts of “free stuff” might turn states like Texas from red to blue.
Lest I appear to be painting a picture of impending doom, let’s consider how the rest of the world is likely to fare.
As I said earlier, the other first-world nations—the various nations of Europe and Scandinavia, plus Japan—are experiencing the same shrinking native population that the U.S. is. With the exception of Japan, these nations have tried to compensate by opening the borders and allowing unrestricted immigration.
The result has been less than satisfactory. Whole areas of France, Germany, and Sweden, and to a lesser degree Belgium, have been taken over by the immigrants, who have imposed their own laws, culture, customs, and religion on the areas. They have driven out the native population and threatened the native law-enforcement agencies with violence and death if they try to interfere.
Population growth in the so-called “third-world” nations like the various nation-states of Africa is well above the replacement rate, which means their native population is growing—in some cases exceeding four or five children per woman of childbearing age. But the vast majority of that population is illiterate and has no job skills. Their growing numbers place an added strain on the nation’s economy.
The nations that are benefitting the most from this situation are the “second world” nations—the nations that are transitioning from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. Their birth rate is remaining at or just above the replacement rate. Their educational and vocational training systems are educating and training their population for their growing industrial economy. Their per-capita income is growing, and with it the demand for cars, houses, and other big-ticket items.
Nations benefitting in this manner are largely the nations of Asia—India, China, South Korea, the Philippines, and the small nation-states of Southeast Asia, like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
As I made the point earlier—a merit-based immigration system is the only solution that will work for the U.S. Anything else—including a continuation of our present “Y’all come on in!” policies—will just hasten our decline and eventual death as a nation.