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Our Opinion: Courting disaster

Whether to have children is an intensely personal decision for women and couples. But it is becoming a social, economic — and political — issue, too.

Birth rates in the United States have dipped to historic lows. Last year’s rate was the lowest in 32 years.

And analysts point out that the 3.788 million births last year marked the fourth year in a row in which the birth rate decreased. It has gotten to the point that the current cohort of women of child-bearing age is not having enough babies to replace the current population of the United States.

Women and couples postpone pregnancies or decide against them all together for a number of reasons. Some are personal preferences. Many, however, are related to uncertainty about the economy.

Though there have been signals for about two years now that the U.S. economy was rebounding from the “Great Recession,” that has not been reflected in higher birth rates. To the contrary; the numbers keep going down.

Not to worry, say those who study such things. The young women of today will decide to have babies eventually, they assure us.

But what if they don’t?

All sorts of ramifications would have to be addressed. Fewer children mean less need for schools, as well as colleges and universities. It means a smaller workforce, already a problem for an economy that cannot fill all the job openings it has generated.

And it means fewer taxpayers to support local, state and federal governments. Think not just about day-to-day operations of government, but also about the commitments it has made.

Already, the Social Security Administration warns it may become insolvent in about a quarter-century. The crush of baby boomers entering retirement and collecting benefits will only grow worse.

Some at the local- and state-government levels already have had to take unpleasant steps, such as consolidating public schools, to deal with population losses. Little if any thought seems to have been given in Washington to the potential challenge.

A steadily growing population able to pay both for itself and its parents and grandparents would solve such problems. Failing to plan for the possibility that will not happen would be courting disaster, however.

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