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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/16/13

The Right's Plan: More Poor White Kids

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What a difference two decades makes. Those who blasted African Americans with large families as the bane of our society now insist it's Americans patriotic duty to have more (read: more undereducated, white) children.

This time it's a real crisis. Minorities, just years from becoming the majority, aren't voting Republican.

Of course it's sold differently. The Wall Street Journal published conservative (conserving cash for corporations and the rich) Weekly Standard writer Jonathan Last's sky-is-falling article. The Feb. 2-3 Weekend Review lead article "America's Baby Bust" has him going apoplectic over our fertility rate. At 1.91, just below the replacement rate of 2.1, it's supposedly the "root cause of many of our problems".   White college-educated woman who have 1.6 kids on average are particularly to blame (despite China's prosperity at a similar rate). Last uses his man-made crisis to trot out hare-brained Republicans schemes to promote child bearing: less value on college, lower social security taxes, and improving the highway system (?!).

The recent piece is only worth talking about because wacky right-wing articles emerge as Republican memes, particularly when their arguments are specious (think "forcible" and "legitimate" rape, and restricting access to birth control). Let's look at 10 illogical aspects.

1. Hypocrisy   -- When single African American Moms were having kids 20 years ago, they were the bane of our society. Now that 40 percent of babies are born to single Moms (heavily skewed to less educated, but more white women than in the past,) everything's peachy keen.

Why are his self-described "new taxpayers" so newly cool? Several reasons not in the article: 1) their taxes will compensate for corporate shirkers, 2) they will be avid great consumers (thank child marketing up 170 times in less than 30 years), 3) they will fill prisons required to be at capacity, and, 4) they'll buy toxic food that keeps our health rock bottom in the developed world. The rich eat better, save more, and stay (or buy their way) out of trouble. They pay less taxes and buy less junky products relative to their income.

2. Teen Moms   -- Unfortunately kids having kids is still an important topic. The one-third of US teens who get pregnant obtain less education, earning them lower salaries and making them less likely to be employed. Unintended pregnancies here are among the highest in the Western industrialized world. They are linked to depression, domestic abuse, alcoholism, and poor prenatal care according to an Institute of Medicine study.

3. Climate change   -- And, as it turns out, the best thing we could do for this world is not have American children. Turn off all the lights you want and buy a hybrid, but the best way to reduce your environmental impact is to have less kids. Despite Last's ridiculous assertion that "growing populations lead to increased" conservation", America's population -- and carbon emissions -- have soared, with disastrous consequences. The increase of 4 degrees Celsius we're expected to see by 2100 is a "doomsday scenario", according to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Getting back on track to the 2 degrees that world leaders agreed to will be tough. Do all you can on what should be our top priority and, if anything, have less kids.

4. Ingenuity and college   -- Part of Last's case is that "human ingenuity ... is the most precious resource" but he deemphasizes the role of new demographics and the importance of college. Teenage moms or high school dropouts kids are unlikely to be the next Steve Jobs; the latter are now three times more likely to be unemployed than college grads.   College remains the best path to a brighter future. But Last doesn't applaud Obama's proposal to cap university debt for greater affordability, or steps like his recent college scorecard.

5. Immigration   -- If this country of immigrants really needed more people, we could easily add some more. It would have benefits: we'd no longer split our sides from watching fat white people fall down after an hour of picking crops, or listen to white CEOs explain how they're really not wrecking our world. But the right's problem is not our replacement rate but that the blacks, Hispanics, and Asians who vote overwhelmingly Democratic will make up the majority in 30 years . In fact, minority babies already are the majority. The implicit subtitle of Last's book, "The Coming Demographic Disaster", is "for Republicans".

6. Supporting Moms -- If we really want more American babies and more innovation (even if we don't), we should support mothers like the rest of the world. Why don't more American women want more children? For one, because we ONLY developed country without paid maternity leave. Also because majority of mothers want to work part time but often have to put in 40-plus hours for that second-class status. It's not surprising parents are 6 percent less likely to be "very happy" than comparable nonparents.

7. Corporate taxes -- Last thinks we'll have problems supporting American priorities' in the future. Amen, brother. Lagging -- rather than leading -- on climate change, infrastructure, health care, and education costs us. Yet while we fail to adequately invest in our country, wealthy investors thrive.   In the last 40 years, the stock market rose about 14 times (1400 percent) while wages for the average worker stagnated. Corporations contribute less to federal taxes, percentage-wise, than any time in the past 60 years. And companies are trying to bring back $1.5 trillion tax free. Looking for several hundred billion dollars per year? If you can spell tax reform, it's there for the taking.

8. Other taxes   -- What if corporations run overseas, as the right threatens?   Many already have, but not because their absurdly low effective tax rate. Still we can and should raise taxes that don't depend on their presence.   Australia passed a carbon tax, joining Ireland who imposed a slate of environmentally friendly taxes that have raised revenues during harsh economic times. Ironically, corporations flock to the nations with more taxes and better energy plans: have a chuckle at the Munich Starbucks or a Swiss McDonald's.

9. Infertility   -- The true "root cause" of many of our problems is our failing health care system. Even rising infertility may be due a Vitamin D deficiency in about half the population, obesity, and pharmaceutical drugs. Getting our citizens properly diagnosed, eating and medicated might bring a rise in kids. Expanding adoption -- especially from abroad -- is another worthy step ignored in the article.

10. Expense -- Raising kids can be cheaper than you think, according to Last. Only it's not. No longer do we live on family farms where cotton pants and potatoes get 14 hours of daily child labor. It's expensive to raise kids, costing $300,000 for middle income parents, and breaking the backs of the poor. Our child poverty rate is the third highest in the developed world, lagging only Turkey and Chile. Yet Last is the last to put forth a proposal to help our kids.

Jonathan Last and the right have an American dream: it's the ghettoization of America.   Our country is heavily segregated but we are headed to the outcomes of the ghetto in rising obesity rates, gun violence, food deserts, unemployment, and foreclosures. But "poverty", "toxic food", "chronic unemployment", "incarceration", "no savings", "predatory mortgages", and "high school dropouts" don't sell. So Last approaches America with policies that appear friendly to children even while destroying their prospects. And that's the wrong -- and hopefully last -- message from the ironically named right.

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.
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