by Josh Hammer
The National Center for Health Statistics, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention subagency, reported this week that America’s fertility rate dropped for the sixth consecutive year. Total births declined by 4 percent in 2020, down to 1,637.5 children per 1,000 women. The statistical replacement rate for the U.S. population, by contrast, is roughly 2,100 births per 1,000 women. Overall, the 3,605,201 births last year in the United States represented the lowest number since Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
It is perhaps too early to tell whether yet another annual incremental birthrate decline is anomalous, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or flows naturally from existing demographic trendlines. Sociologists and demographers will pore over the data, but it is difficult to ignore the broader trend and place the blame squarely—or even predominantly—on the virus and the myriad draconian lifestyle restrictions the virus engendered.
On the contrary, many had speculated before this week’s report that the extended COVID lockdowns might lead to a one-time annual increase in the birthrate as couples sheltered in place together for months on end.
This bleak demographic reality is inconsonant with Americans’ stated child-rearing preferences. According to polling data revealed by American Compass in February, 45 percent to 50 percent of Americans who do not report that their families are still growing say they have fewer children than they would ideally desire, whereas zero to 10 percent of Americans without growing families say they have more children than they ideally would have had.
Put simply, Americans want more babies, but for various, complicated reasons, they are not having them.
A drastic incongruence between stated preferences and lived reality is the definitional case for good public policy, and there has been a resurgence of interest of late on the realignment right to rediscover the tools of economic statecraft as it pertains to family policy.
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) recently released his Family Security Act plan to provide direct monthly cash benefits for young and school-aged children. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) came out in support of a further increase in the Child Tax Credit for young children. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) unveiled a new “Parent Tax Credit” that the American Principles Project’s Jon Schweppe has labeled the “most pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-life, pro-adoption, pro-work, pro-everything-that-conservatives-love economic proposal offered . . . in recent memory,” and American Compass itself devised a rival “Family Income Supplemental Credit” policy. There are other competing ideas, too, such as University of Dallas professor Gladden Pappin’s 2019 proposal for a generous direct support system called “FamilyPay.”
This economic policy fermentation is deeply healthy. Elected Republicans in Washington, D.C., ought to eventually coalesce around one proposal, but for now, the intellectual vitality of the present policy discussion is intrinsically beneficial. There are also innumerable avenues for noneconomic policy—the realms of sociology, technology, religion, and so forth—to help lay the foundations for a possible new baby boom.
Here is one exceedingly straightforward idea to add into the mix: Stop incessantly bashing America and telling young parents and children to hate America.
As a matter of public discourse and increasingly as a matter of education policy, impressionable young would-be parents and their even more impressionable children are indoctrinated in rank America-hatred. The most sordid forms of this indoctrination come packaged in woke-speak such as “critical race theory” and “antiracism,” which dovetail with the New York Times‘ insidious “1619 Project” in making an affirmative case for America’s purported “systemic racism.”
This is no longer a fringe theory relegated to the cesspool that is the modern American academy; in the aftermath of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s recent guilty conviction, no less a figure than President Joe Biden himself seized the moment to decry the “systemic racism that is a stain on our nation’s soul.” Indeed, in the year 2021, condemning the United States’ incorrigible “systemic racism” is perhaps the Democratic Party’s foremost call to arms.
Holding aside the fact that this is a noxious lie—America has not been “systemically racist,” with the possible exception of the anti-Asian racism of affirmative action education policies, since Jim Crow—there are tangible effects of this rhetoric for the body politic. Put simply, inculcating America-hatred logically ought to disincentivize young, healthy couples from procreating. After all, who would rationally want to bring forth new life into a country that is irredeemably “systemically racist” to its core?
Demographers often associate falling birthrates with falling confidence in a nation’s future. The U.S. in the year 2021 is no exception. Fortunately, some of our plummeting confidence is baseless—and self-inflicted. The most straightforward way to help accelerate birthrates again could be as simple as ceasing the collective self-flagellation of leftist America-hatred.
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Josh Hammer is the opinion editor of Newsweek. A popular conservative commentator, he is of counsel at First Liberty Institute and a syndicated columnist through Creators. A frequent pundit on political, legal and cultural issues, Hammer is a constitutional attorney by training. He is a former John Marshall Fellow of the Claremont Institute and was a law clerk for Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah).