Dear Paul Ryan,
So, you’ve stumbled on the crisis of revenues vs. spending that everyone studying basic economics and the Congressional budget process is aware of. Thanks for joining the party. I’m glad you’re concerned about this. I’m glad you’re suddenly worried about elder poverty, paying for Social Security, and taking care of infrastructure. I am, too. I’m worried about passing the costs of everything onto my children. Basically, it worries me greatly and I’d like to talk to you about your proposed policy solution. You said America just needs to have more kids. I know you think you’ve done your “part” but I’m not sure you understand what that means.
It is true that we have more people dying than we have being born to replace them. According to the Population Research Bureau, Americans women are having just south of 2 kids over their lifespan (in 2010, the fertility rate of U.S. women was just 1.9). However, this is not a uniquely American problem. The comparative political scientist within me needs to remind you the problem is worse in Europe, where women only have about 1.5 kids, on average (in most countries minus the UK, Spain, and Ireland). This trend is also not completely linear. The Population Research Bureau reports that, during economic declines, American couples have decided to put off having a lot of kids. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, the U.S. fertility rate was at is lowest and, even during the Great Depression, women were having about 2 children. This trend reversed during the postwar Baby Boom, where fertility rates rose to more than 3.5 children per woman. Thus, having fewer babies is a trend across the developed world, is worse elsewhere, and is likely related to a poor economy in the Great Recession.
Likewise, because Boomers are dying and aging, it would be nearly impossible to “keep up” with them. They are the most expensive generation on record. This is due to the fact that they are living longer, requiring more care as they age, and are the largest generation in modern times. However, Mr. Ryan, I can assure you that having them taxing the social welfare state is not new. When boomers were born, they played an equally large role in draining resources. You see, people my parents age were also expensive growing up. Building schools, hospitals, roads, infrastructure, and colleges to support this huge group of kids was equally spendy.
And currently, millennial parents are suffering. They are making less than boomers and gen-x’ers. The cost of having children is not decreasing, either. Daycare is simply unaffordable for many people – about 70% of the population, to be exact. The average cost of infant care is about 11 grand. That is more than we pay in an affordable area of the country but we still find rent to be cheaper than childcare. Having older kids is not magically cheaper, either. In 23 states, pre-k, which is often significantly cheaper than full time infant care, is still more expensive than in-state tuition. And it’s not like college is super affordable.
Are you like me? Did you have a terribly difficult pregnancy? Did you not have enough paid leave? Did you suffer working to the very end because you weren’t allowed to take FMLA and secure your job until you were induced or in labor? Did you exhaust all of your paid leave during FMLA and respond by working more 12 hour days to do well-baby visits? Yep. These are realities families face. And, without parental leave, moms and dads suffer either via going back to work too soon or financially. And, most women are going back before pumping is established. Pumping is hard. If you breastfeed, it’s just so much harder. I realize your wife stayed home but working moms have to make tough choices about feeding their kids when they return to work more often than not. Women in hourly jobs or those that don’t offer any paid leave to bank suffer the most. So, are you getting it now?
I’ve highlighted two fiscal problems with this assumption that having more babies will fix the economy: added people require more expensive infrastructure investments and it is increasingly expensive to raise children in this world. It’s not a band-aid. If you want people to have more children, you need to offer paid leave for parents and assist people with the cost of childcare. Don’t get me started on student loan repayments, the need for public school funding (which is largely going to fall on state and local government) because those are serious issues, too, and I don’t have time. You also need to invest in infrastructure when you grow the population. That requires things like investments in hospitals and schools. The U.S. population is growing and has grown over time even if the birth rate is not going up. Adding to that is only going to increase strains on infrastructure.
So, while you celebrate the passage of a tax bill that will cause problems for a number of American families and decide to retire to spend time with your kids, please think of me and the families like mine. Think of how you are asking women to just have more babies while not supporting them. Think of your immense privilege.
My husband and I have “done” as much as you did. Just like you, we have three children between the two of us. When paid parental leave that doesn’t require you to use all your sick leave and subsidized daycare are a “thing”, we will think about more babies. Until then, think about what you are asking families like mine to do and think about how your policy choices affect the people you lecture.
This Working Mom