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OUR VIEW: We must produce or import children (poll)

By: Wayne Laugesen
May 19, 2011
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Imagine a day when Social Security would go only to those retirees who produced, adopted, or financially supported kids. Singles and couples who chose childless lifestyles would get nothing.

In this futuristic scenario, Social Security has been reduced to a lock box of worthless IOUs and whatever payments come into the system from a shrunken labor pool. The number of retirees has risen, and the number of workers has declined, because the childless life became a trend when senior citizens were young.

Think about that when reading stories with headlines such as this one, from Thursday’s gazette.com: “2010 CENSUS: Where have Colorado’s kids gone?”

The story tells about a shrinking percentage of Coloradans who are married with children.

It explains that for the first time in recent history, fewer than half of Colorado’s households are married couples, and the number of married couples with kids fell from 24.4 percent in 2000 to 21.4 percent in 2010. In 10 years, the median age in Colorado rose from 34 to 36. Ten years ago, one in 10 Coloradans was a senior citizen. Today, the number is one in nine.

It’s nationwide trend that will only get worse. Americans produce fewer children each year. If it were not for immigrant couples who produce higher numbers of babies, our country’s population would be in a dangerous, economy-killing decline.

The dangers of population decline are quite simple. We cannot sustain the economy, and the general welfare of humanity, when old, non-working Americans — dependent on pensions and government subsidies — outnumber people of working age. A minority cannot provide adequately for a majority, any more than a pyramid can balance upsidedown.

It is unrealistic to think that Americans will begin making big families. We have used the tax code to incentivize procreation with dismal results. Few consider tax breaks when deciding whether they’re up for sleepless nights, diapers and tuition.

Western European countries, desperate to increase birthrates, have initiated extreme financial incentives for couples to reproduce and the results have disappointed. Their hope rests in immigration. China is reconsidering its one-child policy as concerns mount about the rapidly increasing age of the population, which threatens to overburden the economy with nonproductive, retired consumers and too few producers.

(Vote in poll to the right in red type. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

A contributor to gazette.com’s reader forum, under Thursday’s population story, summed up the reason more adults avoid parenthood in the West: “Why have kids? They are so expensive and the opportunity cost in money, time, and vacation spots makes it an unattractive alternative to a childless lifestyle.”

That is a common mindset. Spend today’s income today. Let another couple’s children fund tomorrow’s pensions and entitlements.

In reality, our country will probably never tell childless retirees they don’t qualify for benefits, even though a case can be made. More likely, and more reasonably, our country will reform immigration. We will finally raise quotas and make it easier to lawfully enter the United States in order to work, pay taxes and fund Social Security. Fundamental economic demand will prevail over us-vs.-the-brown-invaders pop culture politics.

Conservative, family-values politicians, constituents and media pundits champion large traditional families. They frown on abortion, contraception and same-sex relationships. These values could make them a counter force to the demographic challenges ahead, but they do not. Astoundingly, the same political demographic that favors procreation and traditional families compose some of the fiercest opposition to immigration reforms that would facilitate the importation of traditional families and providers of wealth. The actions and words of conservative politicians and pundits tell us as much.

There is no question we have chosen a demographic road to ruin. We don’t want the perceived burden of children or immigrants.

We prefer a future of massive dependence and minimal production, so we can live for today. It is a future of poverty and despair.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook

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