Women Still Can’t Have It All? Duh! –Part 1

What’s wrong with this picture? Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, and was formerly its Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She is an academic, a foreign policy analyst, and a public commentator. Slaughter served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from January 2009 until February 2011. She is an international lawyer and political scientist who has taught at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, and is a former president of the American Society of International Law. Anne-Marie has two sons. And while she worked at the State Department in Washington on weekdays, her husband, also a professor, took responsibility for the kids on weekdays. She just wrote an article that appears in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Evidently, Professor Slaughter doesn’t believe she has it all.

We think that there is a fine line between having it all and having everything. There’s an old joke that goes like this:

A man takes his first-class seat next to a woman on a plane. They engage in conversation. He glances down at her hand for a moment and comments, “That’s some ring!”

“Do you like it?” she responds.

“I’ve never seen a gem that large.”

“That’s the Klopman diamond.”

“Very impressive.”

“But it comes with a curse.”

“Really? What’s the curse?” He asks.

“Klopman.”

While Professor Slaughter worked in Washington for two years, her 14-year-old son, an eighth-grader, skipped homework, was disruptive in class, failed math, and was “tuning out any adult who tried to reach him,” periodically necessitating her dropping everything to hop a train back home to Princeton.

Anne-Marie Slaughter. Photo: Princeton University

Slaughter appeared on last Tuesday’s PBS News Hour with two other guests, discussing the issues raised in her piece. And while she admits the article is aimed at a particular demographic – namely, “highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place,” she acknowledges that millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. These include single mothers, those trying to find work, and those whose spouses are unable to find jobs.

Ms. Slaughter makes the case that she wants women to have the opportunities for having it all the way men do. What she fails to understand is that men, too, rarely get to have it all. Let’s put the Brad Pittses and Angelina Jolies aside for the moment. They have it all, at least apparently, for the time being. What “normal” man gets to follow the career path he wants and have a wife who brings in an adequate income and gets to spend all the time he would like with his kids, hmmm?

Having kids is a choice. The world, as we point out in our book Enough of Us, does not need more of them. They threaten the ecology of our fragile globe as well as their very own sustainability. And for the most part, parents are not even sure why they wanted the kids they have. So if the people in Slaughter’s demographic decide to reproduce, work out the game plan before you go out on the field. Make sure you have a husband with an open mind. And whatever you do, don’t ever get divorced. Because if you do split, it’s going to throw both a monkey wrench and chewing gum into the works.

In the second installment of this post we will explore some of the criticisms of Professor Slaughter’s article.

Is Being Childfree Really Acceptable?

     The other morning, as Cheryl was about to enter our neighborhood Trader Joe’s, a woman with a clipboard asked if she would sign a petition to put an initiative on the November ballot that would, if passed, raise California sales taxes. The revenue would go to elementary schools and to colleges.    

Typical California ballot measure petition. Photo – KCET

Cheryl explains: I told her that I was unfamiliar with the particulars of this petition, so I didn’t want to sign at this time. She persisted in giving me more information than I could ever want, so I told her that I had chosen a childfree lifestyle, and I didn’t want to pay extra taxes to educate other people’s kids, especially when those parents could take on that responsibility by paying their fair share of taxes.  She smiled beatifically, told me she had six children, and thanked me sarcastically “for all you are doing for the world.” I started to explain that many people who choose not to have offspring do so for socially conscious reasons, not because they hate children.

     Forget about it. She turned to me and with that same beatific smile informed me that Jesus Christ was God and that he loves me no matter what I do. I made several stabs at asking her to allow me to finish, and she simply wouldn’t. She said it was a shame that no one had ever told me about Jesus, and wondered why I didn’t want to be saved.

     At that point Cheryl walked away, mentally throwing up her hands.

     This incident, plus a couple of others, has made us aware again of the difficulty facing those of us who choose not to have children: it isn’t really fully acceptable in our culture (and many others) to openly disclose our non-traditional decision.

     Case in point: some of our dearest friends have refused to visit this web site because the subjects we tackle “do not interest” them, or so they say.  How would they know how compelling our website is – or isn’t – without having visited? Most of these friends do have children, or at least have tried. We’ve known most of these children since their births, enjoyed time with them, and in some cases befriended them over the years. Their parents, for the most part, have done successful jobs of raising them. Yet it seems that our web site poses problems for our friends. They often act like our positions – that there are enough of us on this planet and that having kids is a crapshoot – insults them. But wait a minute, shouldn’t we be the ones who are insulted? Why can’t we be open about our decision to be childfree and our reasons to be respectfully heard, which could lead to meaningful discussions without anyone having to have the “right” argument?  For the sake of accuracy, we have occasionally participated in open dialogue on the subject, but it’s all too rare.

     Is the tradition of having children so embedded in our culture that choosing not to have children simply isn’t acceptable? Is the negative judgment about those who choose to be childfree a rumbling undercurrent in our country, much like racism is?

     In an online medical resource for international patients that explains American values, the nuclear family is described as consisting of parents and children. Its purpose is to “bring about the happiness of each family member.” There isn’t anything in this assertion that addresses households without children. It’s as if America has no such families.  (www.americanhospitals.com/questions/american/amervalues.htm)

     In an article about the definition of culture, the term “cultural universals” popped out at me. “These are learned behavior patterns that are shared by all of humanity collectively. No matter where people live in the world, they share these universal traits.”  Raising children in some sort of family setting was number 4 on the list. (http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_1.htm)

     Many American organizations have shared a childfree perspective. To name a few: The National Organization for Non-Parents; No Kidding; The Childfree Network and The National Alliance for Optional Parenthood. Outside the United States, an Australian childfree party tried for political cohesion under the name Australian Childfree Party, as did a British organization, Kidding Aside. In spite of the work these organizations have put into their causes, “the childfree movement has not had significant political impact.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childfree)

     Clearly, having children is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture, so much so that one’s credibility as a good person is threatened if one dares to voluntarily travel the path away from parenthood. Even so, we will continue to tell our truth, and to support would-be parents who have the moxie to think twice before making children.

Know folks who have to share their opinions on your childfree choice?

As we discussed in our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, having a child can affect your relationship with a good friend who chooses not to procreate.  Because having children is such a must-do-as-a-matter-of-course part of our culture, those who decide not to go with the program are prime targets for subtly hurtful statements that are not meant to insult. Some hurtful words come from those with children out of their naïveté about the soul searching it sometimes takes to choose not to have offspring.  As one of Cheryl’s wise amigas once said, “It takes just as much thought to decide not to have kids as to decide to have them – sometimes even more.” 

So, here are seven handy hints about what not to say to your friends who have simply taken the path less traveled. And if you are childfree, you might want to pass this article on to your friends and family who would benefit from some sensitivity training. Some of these ideas were inspired by the web site Nest.com’s  November 2, 2011 article, “Ten Things Not To Say to Your Childfree Friends.”

1. When will you have kids?

Not a good question to ask your childfree friend in a public gathering like a dinner with several people at the table.  What if she’s struggling with infertility or grappling with a boyfriend who might not want children?  What if she’s contemplating whether to adopt a child as a single parent? What if she’s leaning toward remaining childfree? Save this question for a private conversation. Better yet, if you’re going to stick your nose in, how about phrasing it something like, “Have you decided whether you would like to have kids?” Otherwise you might get a retort like,”When are you going to further your education?”

2. We love having a family.

This implies that having a family always means having  children, which it doesn’t. A husband and wife are a family. A single man with a cat and a dog has formed a family. A childless woman with a niece and nephew enjoys a family life. A gay couple with their hamster and parakeet have a family. Thank goodness that the face of the American family has changed so much over the years. So get hip people! Family is now diverse.

3. You would be such a great parent! 

 In a way, it sounds like you’re telling your friend that he has failed in some way, because he hasn’t used his skills to parent his own child. But maybe he can give more to the world by inspiring graffiti taggers to paint murals. Maybe she can specialize in helping dysfunctional kids become involved in community projects like delivering food to poor families. It’s not imperative that people who like and understand children must become parents.

4. Having children is the most important creative act.

Although people with children may feel this way, this statement, which came out of the mouth of a women’s conference workshop leader, certainly makes mincemeat of the creative spark in the souls of those who give birth to things other than children.  If procreating is the most important creative act, there is a very important momma cat living in our neighborhood – 10 at a time! Some in the childfree world write great novels, or weave fabulous fabrics, or teach hospital-bound kids to paint. Creativity comes in many forms. Can one really say that one form is more “important” than another?

5. You’re so lucky!

“You can live your life without heavy obligations, so you can travel, and mostly do what you want to do.” This is a loaded statement. The meta message is that your childfree friends have many fewer responsibilities than you do, and that they are too afraid or selfish to take on the responsibilities of childrearing. This bears a reality check. Some people without kids have spent years caring for a dysfunctional family member or ill parent. Countless people who have no progeny work long hours to support themselves, without the luxury of travel or the freedom to do what they want to do. Many people without kids volunteer in organizations that give back to the community and they carry lots of responsibility in their leadership roles. This statement usually comes when a parent has had a bad day. Better yet, meet your kid-free friend for coffee and commiserate about your mutual obligations and responsibilities. In any case, luck probably had very litle to do with it.

6. Well, let me tell you (all) about my daughter (or son).

Making your child the only subject of conversation can be a subtle message to your childfree friends that they don’t have the important title of “parent,” and furthermore that they haven’t raised an exceptional being (like my child). Living through your child is similar in flavor to individuals who live through their “important” careers when they are lunching with a friend with a less-prestigious job. That’s when the conversation becomes one-sided, and b-o-o-ring.

7. It’s impossible to recover when a child dies before the parents do.

That seems to be universal common knowledge and of course it’s true. It’s usually true of losing a sibling, or even a parent, as well. But if you lose a loved one, do you really want to hear about how hopeless the experience is? It’s also important not to discount the relationship that many childfree people form with their pets. When that pet dies, it sure feels impossible to recover from the loss. In fact, losing a beloved, in general, leaves such a hole in one’s heart that it really can’t be measured. The depth of grief and process of recovery depend on the connection between humans and their loved ones, be they animal or human.

So make a resolution. If you are a parent, be sensitive to the life choices of others. If you are childfree or childless, let others know what you feel are acceptable boundaries.

Happy new year!

Do College Protesters Have Legitimate Complaints?

Across America college students are complaining about rising tuition at public institutions of higher learning. This leads us to a pivotal question: How much are those who aspire to advanced education entitled to?

Student protest
Student protest at U.C. Berkeley –                  Photo: Elizabeth Popham for Politics Daily

We invite our readers’ comments. We would love to see open dialog about this timely and important issue in our blog. There is, of course, no right or wrong answer to that question. Each person’s opinion depends, of course, on individual sets of values and beliefs. In our book, Enough of Us, we raise our own concerns about the inequities of a system that charges higher income taxes on those who choose to have fewer kids, or none at all.
Every child in America is entitled to a free 13 year scholarship. And while they are receiving their K-12 education, their parents are getting tax deductions. Why should that be? No one forced them to have kids. It was a choice.
After high school, lots of young women and men get low-cost educations at junior and senior colleges. But exactly what should these students be entitled to? Why isn’t it their parents who should be footing the bill? After all, we’re talking about their kids.
Of course, many kids are the progeny of poor homes, incompetent parents, and parents who abandoned them, are in prison, or died. We certainly make no case for leaving the unfortunate out in the cold. But what about the rest? How many middle class families live with an expectation of entitlement?
Here are some questions that might focus the discussion a little:
• Did the parents stash away enough money in anticipation of the cost of college?
• Did the parents spend a lot on a mortgage for an expensive home, which cut into the amount they were saving? Were they upgrading their kitchen when they might have been increasing their nest egg?
• How many expensive vacations did they take?
• How many computers, family cellular service bundles, and other tech devices did they spend money on?
• How many TVs were there, and were they attached to cable services. Did the cable packages include premium services like HBO, Showtime and the like? (In today’s dollars, HBO alone costs more than $3,000 over an 18-year span.)
• Did the kids get cars – and insurance – from their parents?
• Did they shop at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s when they could have been buying at Target and Costco?
• Were the kids raised with a boat, RV, or other recreational vehicle in the family?
Here is our point. When a family indulges itself in other than the necessities of life, only to find there is not enough left to finance their kids’ educations, why is it the government’s (read “taxpayers’”) responsibility to make up the difference?
The average 4-year college graduate owes $26,000 in student loans. That’s $6,500 per year. So? We understand that in times like these, when the government let us down and looked the other way while corporate America gave us – and is still giving us – a royal screwing, it is not a good time for students to pay debts.
Repayment on those debts should be delayed without interest while the federal government pays the interest (or requires the private lenders to hold the debt without interest). After all, it was the government’s lack of oversight that got the world into this mess.
But when times are better, the families that borrowed the money should pay it back. As for those who could not afford college and who did not squander their incomes for eighteen years per child, they deserve help. It’s not the kids’ faults that parents who could not afford them had them.
These are our points. We’re sure you have opinions of your own. We’d love to hear them and we’d love to open a dialog between the folks who read our blog.
One last point. To us, Thanksgiving is the gold standard of American holidays. It’s about gratitude, period. Except for groceries, it’s not about buying stuff. Holiday materialism doesn’t start until a second after Thanksgiving. We both give thanks every year for the bounty in our lives. Unfortunately there are now millions of homeless kids in America. It’s not fair. Our hearts go out to them and we wish them all good fortune. Whatever the status of those striving for higher education, and those participating in Occupy _______ (fill in the blank), we all have much to be thankful for, not the least of which are the freedoms to assemble and to speak out for what we believe in.

Some Interesting Insights into Family Planning

In perusing the latest edition of The Reporter, Population Connection’s tri-annual magazine, we came across some interesting – and sometimes alarming – data.
As of September, 11 states have decided to ban funding for Planned Parenthood clinics through their Medicaid and Title X (10) funding. Title X Family Planning clinics have ensured access to a broad range of family planning and related preventive health services for millions of low-income or uninsured individuals and others.
Planned Parenthood is fighting these policies based on the assertion that that they are unlawful. In the meantime, the clinics are forced to deny low-income patients services that federal law dictates should be covered by any qualified provider the patient chooses.
“This attack on access to reproductive health care is a move by anti-choice policymakers to deny funding to any organization that provides or counsels on abortion services in the case of rape, incest, and threat to a woman’s life,” says Population Connection.
Planned Parenthood’s budget is overwhelmingly dedicated to providing birth control, cancer screenings and prenatal care. Only three percent of its budget involves abortion.
Federal judges in Kansas and Indiana have granted temporary injunctions to Planned Parenthood affiliates in those states, thereby precluding those states from withholding funding.

Intrauterine contraceptive devices - copper (l) and hormonal (r) Photo: Bestbirthcontrolpillsite.com

As you probably are aware, the Catholic Church prohibits contraception. What surprised us is that – according to the Guttmacher Institute, which seeks to advance sexual and reproductive health through research, policy analysis and public education – 68 percent of those who identify themselves as Catholic use so-called modern contraceptive techniques. Only two percent stick to methods mandated by the Church. These methods include abstinence, temperature rhythm, and cervical mucus tests.
Almost three out of four Protestants, including Evangelicals, use such contraception, with more than 40 percent of Evangelicals – both men and women – using sterilization. So among all Western Christian faiths, the incidence of modern contraceptive techniques is fairly uniform.

So where is all this leading? The birth rate in the United States is dipping, probably with the putrid state of our economy as the primary cause. Preliminary reports indicate there were about four million births in the country in 2010. That’s a drop of three percent since the previous year and a drop of seven percent since the all-time high of 4.3 million in 2007. There was only one group that showed an increase in births for 2010: women over 40. The link may be that part of the drop in birthrate is that women may be waiting for later in life to procreate. Congrats to Michelle Duggar (number 20 on the way despite she and fetus 19 almost biting the dust during the pregnancy) and to Sarah Palin, whose son Trig was born with Down syndrome.

To us, one of the most irresponsible types of pregnancies is the unintended kind. According to studies by both the Guttmacher Institute and the Brookings Institution – an independent, research-oriented think tank – unintended pregnancies cost American taxpayers $11 billion per year. Such births are most likely to qualify for Medicaid benefits and State Health Insurance Programs (S-CHIP). In 2006, 64 percent of the 1.6 million births from unintended pregnancies were publicly funded, compared with 35 percent of births from planned pregnancies.
A publicly funded birth, on average, costs almost $12,000. This amount does not reflect the governmental costs of welfare benefits. In previous columns and in our upcoming book we have expressed our criticisms of the government’s role in promoting childbirth.

Here are some factoids that really surprised us. The intrauterine device (IUD) method of birth control seems to be making a comeback. While only 5.5 percent of women use it, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, IUDs are among the most reliable forms of birth control. Less than one percent of women who use the copper IUD become pregnant within one year. Those who use hormonal implants have a yearly pregnancy rate of 1/20 of a percent.
Among those who use “the pill,” nine percent get pregnant, largely because of incorrect or inconsistent use. With almost half of U.S. pregnancies being unintended (yikes!) long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) – including IUDs – are the most effective and efficient. They do not, however, protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
According to The Reporter, “Common barriers to the use of LARC are high initial cost; difficulty finding a provider who carries and knows how to insert the method; lack of knowledge about the method; and a distrust in the method due to injuries and infections caused by the first IUD, the Dalkon Shield, in the early 1970s.”

We believe federal and state governments should provide contraception to those who cannot afford it. The long-term benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the short-term costs. The paybacks to our society and the world are manifold. In this way, public largess will save money, grief and the demands we make upon our planet.

 

Down with big, Intrusive Government (Except for Going into Women’s Wombs) – Revised

What on Earth is going on in Mississippi? On yesterday’s ballot, America’s most regressive state – more about this in a moment – voted to determine whether a fertilized human egg – a single cell – is a “person.” If it were voted into “factitude,” it would make all kinds of behavior subject to criminal indictment. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed as 58 percent of voters rejected the amendment to the state’s constitution.

Yes on Amendment 26 graphic

       Take a “morning after” pill – you’re a murderer. Abortion . . . likewise. The idea behind this so-called Personhood Amendment was to establish the strongest so-called pro-life (read: anti-choice) laws in the country.
One in three children in the Magnolia State lives in poverty, the highest rate in the nation. It also leads the nation in percentage of population living in poverty. It’s tied for fifth in high school dropout rate. It has the second highest incarceration rate.
We won’t take a stand here as to whether abortion is right or wrong. That’s an individual decision. If you are against abortion, don’t practice it. Voice your opinion. Dissuade others. The question becomes this: If you believe that a person becomes a person when a sperm enters an ovum, does that make it so? Does a state have the right to enforce essentially religious beliefs?
If the answer is yes, here are some complications to consider:
• If a woman takes a “morning after” pill, how does the state prove there was a fertilized egg in her womb? With no corpus delecti, how does one prove murder?
• How would Mississippi afford to provide social services for the likely growing population of financially and emotionally needy unwanted children?
• How will the state accommodate the likely increasing criminal population as these unwanted kids age?
Three of Mississippi’s four members of the House of Representatives, and both of its senators, voted to terminate federal funding of Planned Parenthood. If the Personhood Amendment had passed, it would mean that Mississippi opposes funding family planning and it wants to prevent those who thereby have unwanted pregnancies from removing that predicament.
What if the tables were turned? Imagine if you will that over the decades America develops a population that is overwhelmingly in favor of population reduction. It then mandates that, like China, no mother may give birth to more than one baby. Pregnant with a second child? Too bad; you must have an abortion for the overall betterment of society because, by preventing overpopulation, many lives would be saved. How fair would that be? Would the good people of Mississippi likewise say that since the majority voted for such a program, it should be enforced?
_______________________
Here is an interesting sidebar that appears in the October 2011 issue of The Reporter, the magazine of Population Connection, a nonprofit formerly known as Zero Population Growth (ZPG), that advocates for a sustainable world population. Its president, John Seager, tells a story of the Bush family. Yes, that Bush family.

Prescott Bush

Before he became a senator from Connecticut in 1952, Prescott Bush served as the treasurer of the first national capital campaign of Planned Parenthood in 1947. The first time Prescott ran for the senate he lost, due in part to his favoring family planning, which did not sit well with much of Connecticut’s heavily Catholic population. He eventually won a Senate seat in 1952, serving two terms.
George H.W. Bush, Prescott’s son, wrote an expression of praise for ZPG when he was Ambassador to the United Nations in the Nixon Administration.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the White House. H.W. realized that if he were to win over the southern states and maintain Nixon’s so-called Southern Strategy, he would have to steer clear of any associations with abortion. Then came George W. Bush, who did away with  contributions to the United Nations Population Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s family planning program. So the once enthusiastically pro-family-planning Bushes transformed into neo-pioneers of the philosophy that family planning is not a good idea.
“Why would anyone oppose reducing abortions by providing women with the ability to manage their own fertility?” asks Seager. Speaking of today’s Congress, he adds, “It turns out that a majority of the U.S. House can’t or won’t accept this simple notion.”
As for Mississippi’s vote on personhood, if the ballot initiative had passed, you can bet that this matter would not have been resolved until the U.S. Supreme Court were to decide on its constitutionality.
The ultimate solution to issues of unwanted pregnancies lies with each of us individually. We need to think, and think twice. We need to decide whether unplanned pregnancy – nay, unplanned sexual activity that results in hit-or-miss pregnancy – is a reasonable way to live.
But undermining family planning is definitely the wrong way to go.

Tata may Mean “So long” in Britain, but it Means “Hello Wheels,” in India

Tata Nano

The May 23, 2011 edition of the Christian Science Monitor features an entire 14-page section on the world’s rising middle-class population. This is a good thing in terms of short-term improvements in quality of life for those who benefit from the largesse. But think of the consequences.

India’s middle class is larger than the entire population of the U.S.A. But, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which promotes policies intended to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, by 2050 about 30 percent of the global middle class will live in India. More than 20 percent will be in China. In other words more than half of the world’s middle class will be located in just those two countries. So what?

Here’s what. The United States, right now, uses about a quarter of the Earth’s fossil fuels. But we make up less than one in 20 of all the planet’s Earthlings. And we are desperate for more atmosphere-choking, species-threatening, and water-polluting fossil fuels. Yet, automobile manufacturers are practically tripping over themselves to get their share of the Indian rupee, Chinese yuan, and Brazilian real.

China is already the world’s biggest auto market. Within 10 years it is likely to have a car market twice the size of the American market. Yow!

India’s Tata Motors is producing the Tata Nano (as in really small) that sells for about $3,000. Okay, so it’s had a few problems like cars bursting into flames and reliability issues, but Tata is no nano company; it’s big and it’s not likely to go the way of the Yugo. It already owns Jaguar and Land Rover. China’s Geely owns Saab.

So let’s say that the electric Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are the cars of the future, along with hybrids. While we are conserving fuel used by each vehicle, the demand for cars, trucks and everything in between is liable to skyrocket. Likely result: demand for contaminating, environmentally destructive fuels continues to rise.

Some Americans kid themselves into thinking that because they have bought a hybrid Toyota Highlander or Chevy Tahoe SUV, or a Lexus LS 600h, they are doing the  Earth and their pocketbooks (does anyone actually use “pocketbook” anymore?) a large favor. So many hybrids are not worth the gas they’re guzzling, either in terms of purchase price or environmental impact.

If we are to truly save this planet, both in terms of fuel consumption, environmental impact, demands on governments (think of the needs for roads, railroads, and airports), and mental health (think of the time spent sitting in rush hour traffic), we must stop ourselves from reproducing at current rates. We cannot afford to wait until human population levels off – as demographers project – at the end of this century.

Things are bad enough already at seven billion humans. Leveling off at 10 billion should make us think twice before making more children. While the Earth is heating up it would be very cool for America to lead the way, both by example and by influencing other nations.

All the political talk is seems to be about what kind of national debt we will be saddling future generations with. That’s small potatoes compared with the environmental and lifestyle deficits we are rushing into headlong. It’s more than any debt we could fix with economic reforms.

Bits and Pieces on America’s Population Policies

Bits and Pieces on America’s Population Policies

 

Can you guess what the world’s human population was 200 years ago? In 1804, experts estimate, it was one billion people. That’s considerably less than India’s population today, at about 1.2 billion.

            Human population took 123 years to reach the 2 billion plateau in 1927. The last billion – going from six to 7 billion between 1999 and 2011 – took only 12 years.

We here present you with some very interesting factoids about our own country in recent years. This information comes to you courtesy of Population Connection’s The Reporter magazine’s May 2011 issue.

– In the last decade, the U.S. population grew by almost 10 million.

– While the teen birth rate in 2009 dropped on an annual basis by six percent, and is now at an all-time low – 39 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 – the rate in the United States is as much as nine times that of other industrialized countries.

– The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010 (kudos to the person or group who came up with that clever and easy-to-remember moniker!) required a two-thirds majority to pass for reasons not worth going into here. An hour before the vote, House of Representatives Republicans received an alert that stated, “There are . . . concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that promote and perform abortions and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws” As a result of this convoluted reasoning 166 House members voted against the bill, killing it. This bill had already passed in the Senate unanimously. As a result, the vote prevented a law that would have included the prevention of forced child marriage from being a part of U.S. foreign policy.

– A few days before President George W. Bush left office, the government put in place a regulation that allowed healthcare workers to deny care based on moral or religious grounds. The government has now rescinded that regulation. Supporters of the policy argued that it would protect healthcare workers from being forced to perform abortions. But under existing law, healthcare workers already had the option to not participate in abortions or sterilizations. The Obama Administration’s case was that the regulation allowed healthcare providers to refuse to dispense emergency contraception, fill birth control prescriptions, provide fertility treatments, provide end-of-life care, and treat patients with HIV/AIDS

– On a positive note, in March Mississippi enacted a law that requires at least minimal sex education in public schools. As of July 1st curriculum proposals will be due in time for approval before the 2012-13 school year begins. Abstinence-only and abstinence-plus – which includes information about contraception – programs are both considered acceptable curricula. Evidently, “just say no” is still blooming in the Magnolia State.

          To learn more about Population Connection, go to www.populationconnection.org.

Should Government have the Role of Encouraging Childbirth?

As a democratic society we have agreed that government should provide – one way or another – for the education of our children. But why should government be in the role of encouraging people to have children? Let’s say that your household and that of your next-door neighbors, Marge and Homer, each earn $75,000 per year. You and your partner/spouse/siginificant other have no kids. Your neighbors have three kids. Those three kids go to school.

That means that you are subsidizing their schooling through your income and property taxes. Okay, that’s how democracy works. After all, if we want to live in a thriving economy as we get older, we need to have an educated workforce. In fact, when Horace Mann advocated for an even playing field for all levels of society back in the first half of the 19th century, that’s exactly what he had in mind; an elementary school education in the “Three R’s” (apparently, Horace was not that good speller himself). And so, his movement for free, compulsory education was born. Every kid would have the basics to go out in the world and earn a living, whether as a blue- or white-collar laborer or, with further education, as a professional.

But in the early part of the 20th century, income taxes were born. And so were  deductions for dependents. So while you are paying full freight for your income tax burden on the 75 grand you make, your neighbors’ tax burden is based on an income of $10,950 less than yours. Huh?

For each child theyelect to produce, they get an annual tax deduction of $3,650.  Well, you might say, that’s fair. After all, it costs a lot to raise a kid. Here’s where we have a problem. If you can’t afford kids, why should your neighbors be subsidizing them? Have as many kids as you can afford, and pay your income taxes. We have two rescued dogs. One of them, we just learned, has bone cancer. We are spending thousands to keep him free of pain and living as long as he can do so comfortably and happily. We would like some government support. Fat chance. We took the responsibility and we’re living with it.

Everyone with a kid is offered a 13-year, K-12 scholarship. Holy cow! Isn’t that enough? Every adult in a household gets a deduction. But people who have kids, whether one or 19 (do a web search for “The Duggars” – you’ll be amazed) get a deduction for each kid, no limit. And if you live in a state that levies income taxes, you get a deduction there as well.

Here’s another thought. If you and your significant other make 75 thou, while Marge and Homer make $250,000, they still get the kiddie deductions. So you are still helping them out. It’s not until a family’s adjusted gross income passes the $250K  milestone that its dependent deductions diminish until they hit zero at just under $373,000.

But wait, there’s more!

Provided that Marge’s and Homer’s income is below 110 grand (or $75,000 for a single head of household, or $55K for a married person filing separately) they get a $1,000 tax credit for each kid. Woohoo! This is not a deduction. It’s a full thousand dollars off your final tax bill . . . for each kid.

So while politicians from coast to coast whine about how our educational system is getting the shaft (we’re not talking about new school elevators here), no one will dare speak about the idea of getting rid of tax deductions and credits for dependent children and funneling that money into schools. That would be a tax raise. Oh heavens forfend! Not in this day of too many taxes and too-big government (unless, of course, there will be a curtailment in my own personal benefits, in which case the above does not apply, thank you very much).

So while theoretical you, with your $75,000 income and childfree lifestyle, must pay full freight, Marge and Homer get three $3,650 deductions and three grand in credits. And in many states they get state tax advantages as well.

“Why?’ we ask. We did not ask parents to reproduce. Their kids create increased burdens on society. But it’s not only related to education. There are public health costs. And infrastructure. And playgrounds and parks and ball fields and yada yada yada (a bow to Seinfeld).

While President Obama’s deficit reduction commission reported Wednesday on what we need to do to reduce America’s debt, there is no mention of the inequitable tax burden for those who have chosen to be childfree.

You want kids? Fine. Pay up.

What’s your opinion?