by TOM MCLAUGHLIN
July 20, 2016
My mother keeps track of her thirty grandchildren and her forty-six great-grandchildren. She knows all their names too - pretty remarkable for a woman in her nineties. She's getting forgetful, but not about family. She had eight children of her own and I'm the fourth. Ours was a large family, but not unique. My best friend across the street was one of seven and so was my wife. We had only four children, which was considered a lot for my generation. Fewer Americans want to have any these days though. I'm seeing more people of childbearing age raising dogs and cats instead of babies and I've written about it several times including here and here. Why don't Americans want to have children anymore? What is happening to us?
Our population is still growing but mostly because of immigration. The percent of Americans born somewhere else is approaching record levels. In Portland, Maine, one of six people was born in another country and most of those who are women are having children at much higher rates than native-born Americans. They, at least, have some hope for the future, which is one meaningful aspect of bearing children. Another is willingness to give of oneself.
Americans tend not to marry much anymore either from what I can see. For two months, I've been advertising an apartment above our garage, and while several couples have inquired, none have been married. Typically, a woman calls me to say she is interested. I ask if she's alone and she says no, it would be for her and her boyfriend. That's the norm these days. When I say I need first and last months' rent, a security deposit, and a credit check, that all presents too high a bar for most to get over.
Pondering this, I saw a story on CBS News that two out of three Americans could not cover a $500 unexpected expense such as a car repair. I was shocked and realized that statistic bodes ill for our nation. There have always been people who live close to the edge and spend every dollar that comes their way as quickly as they can, but 66% of us live like that now? Even when we were a young family living below the federal poverty line, we kept that much on hand. That was back in the 1970s when $500 could buy about what $2500 buys now. It was hard to save up but we did so by eating a lot of soup and watching where every penny went. My wife and I agree those times were among the happiest of our lives. Most people we knew lived similarly, but that way of life is not the norm anymore. What is happening to us?
Used to be that when people went broke, they would go to local churches to ask for money to pay the electric bill, the rent, buy heating oil, food, or whatever was the most pressing basic need. Doing so, they had to be accountable to the priest, minister, or rabbi about their spending habits, work habits, and/or lifestyle that might have gotten them into their predicament. If they went to someone in their family for a loan, the same accountability would usually apply. They'd have to explain how they got in the hole they were in and what they were doing to climb out of it.
Today it's different. Today people go to government. In the 1960s when President Johnson declared his "War on Poverty," the federal government began supporting people. There are forms to fill out but few inquiries about lifestyle. Either you qualify for government aid or you don't. That aid increased steadily to the point where it now spans womb to tomb. It used to be that most had an incentive to save up for emergencies, but if they should save a given amount today it would disqualify them. In 2014, America reached the point where more than half of us received some form of government benefit. How far can "entitlements" expand? We'll be $20 trillion in debt when President Obama leaves office -- double what it was when he was first inaugurated, and most has gone to pay for unsustainable social programs. That's a whole year's GDP. Still we hear candidates promise to make college free and forgive another trillion in student debt with no explanation for how they'll pay for it.
Americans are living beyond their means and so is the government upon which they depend. It's not enough anymore to ask what is happening to us. We must ask what will happen if we continue on this path.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam. Email him at email@example.com