Declining birth rates affect all Americans

Your editorial concerning declining birth rates in the United States published Thursday seems to suggest that American women are not doing their “job” of producing enough children to meet the needs of our country. I agree with most of your comments on the adverse effects of fewer children, but you failed to suggest some remedies that must be used to address this issue.

Women are marrying later, if at all, and delaying childbirth well into their 30s. They alone should control their reproductive rights, but what incentives should be offered to all women of child-bearing age? First and foremost are the medical needs of women; in many cases, less than half are covered by private insurance. Helping uninsured women access Medicaid is a priority. Continuation of Planned Parenthood funding is a necessity because it provides basic services to women. Less than 4% of Planned Parenthood’s services involve abortion, but they provide family planning advice and birth control as well as screening for sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, mammograms, pap smears and other cancer screenings.

Next, mandate a paid six-week maternity leave for all women who work. That would include the minimum wage women who work at fast food restaurants, factories or as part-time retail workers at places such as Walmart and all similar stores. A woman earning minimum wage cannot afford to leave her job to have a child and there are far more women working these types of jobs than Americans realize. If businesses do not offer paid maternity leave, then our government must provide it. This is a necessity, not a luxury.

Another long-term complaint is the lack of subsidized child care from infancy to school age. Most developed countries, including those in Western Europe, Australia and Canada, offer such care, and many children are eligible to begin subsidized schooling at age two. Families alone can no longer provide child care — we are dependent on grandparents for child care and that is no longer feasible for women who do not have close relatives near by.

Some women have no desire to have children and that is their right. Those who do not want children need to be aware of declining fertility rates among men and women. According to numerous scientific studies, male fertility has decreased by 50% in the last 40 years, while women often wait until their 30s to become pregnant. Coupled together, these trends absolutely contribute to lower birth rates each year. This is a strong lack of education about fertility years, and unless middle and high school educators are allowed to teach about these issues, the decline in live births will continue to plummet.

Western European countries, including the UK, Ireland, France and Germany, began, in the 1960s, supplementing their workforce with immigrants from Eastern European countries and Turkey, where jobs were at a minimum and they could earn more in the West. As you note, the United States faces the same problem and thus immigrants, legal and illegal, from our southern border countries have kept small towns, cities, ranches and farms alive. Many women, legal and illegal, work as nannies or provide other types of child care. Let’s train these women as child care providers and pay them legally at the current minimum wage standard.

Declining birth rates are an immediate problem, but until the government provides paid maternity leave and subsidized child care, the decline will continue its downward spiral.This is not a simple issue, but it takes government at all levels to cooperate and move forward. Women and their partners cannot do this alone. It’s time to stop talking and do something before the birth rates continues their precipitous decline.

Your editorial highlighted a topic that is usually ignored. It takes all local communities to push forward implementing these ideas. If not, then we all lose.

Mary Jo Murray,