Reader Gerry comments on my “As Goes The Family…” post. It was so long and thoughtful I wanted to give him his own separate post:
Good food for thought Rod, but speaking as one of the 45 percent of Americans 18 to 34 who DO believe that marriage and childbearing are essential parts of adulthood, my wife and I so far remain childless because, in the areas of the USA with jobs, there’s no job stability, and it’s impossible financially to manage it. And we’re supposedly among the “best off” of young Americans of childbearing age– my wife and I are both highly-paid STEM workers, our parents both live close by, we’re in fact a product of one of those endogamous pairings (first met in a church youth camp) and our city is actually one of the less expensive in terms of cost of living relative to, say, coastal urban Gothams like Miami, NYC, Seattle, LA or SF.
We should fit the profile of a religiously Christian, wealthy young married couple having at least 2 kids if not more, instead we’re nervously debating if (not when) we can even have our first. Why? Because the plutocratic, rent seeking elites who control US economic and political life (aka the ones who bribe our politicians) very clearly don’t want native-born, esp. Christian Americans to reproduce, and they’ve created policies and cultural mores making it extremely tough for us to do so. It’s not just “leftist cultural insouciance” that’s making childbearing in the US so difficult, even more problematic is the absolute insanity of ravenous neoliberal capitalism, which is usually associated with the “Right” though these labels seem more and more useless. This applies to us, an evangelical Christian couple, as well as even our Mormon friends who increasingly are opting out of childbirth. Yes, EVEN THE MORMONS (and even many in the Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom we know from having worked in Chicago and St. Louis) are sharply reducing birth rates due to America’s crazy market fundamentalism.
Just to give a couple examples of the policies that are making it impossible even for pro-natalist couples like us to start families, consider the insanity of US healthcare and the gutting of tech industry wages and jobs due to the H1B visa. My cousin, like us, was gainfully employed with a six-figure salary and “good” health insurance. At least, until he had to use it to cover expenses for the birth of his first child. The baby was born with newborn jaundice that was a bit hard to diagnose, in part due to failures by the medical staff themselves, and had to spend several days in the NICU. Yet by the magic of the extremely corrupt and rent seeking form of capitalism the US worships, the health insurance company was able to step away from covering the costs of the child’s birth, something about how most of the doctors, nurses, anesthetists and other workers and tests in the hospital weren’t in their network that day (even though the hospital WAS in their network). Their hospital bill was well into the six figures, but because my cousin was supposedly “rich” (according to gross income), they got no relief from the bill. After 10 months of infuriating battles and going into collections, my cousin and his wife had no choice but to declare bankruptcy, ruining their credit and draining away virtually all their savings for the past decade.
And his example is hardly isolated. The US healthcare system is predatory and disgusting unless you’re born with a trust-fund, and in the ultimate perversity, the medical need it hits hardest it childbirth and early childhood due to all the ways the healthcare providers and health insurers can collaborate to squeeze a couple into crippling debt. Even a cursory glance at my wife and my healthcare plan, we’d be looking at tens of thousands of dollars for an uncomplicated birth out of pocket, and then crippling and worsening healthcare costs for our first-born afterward, even under the best of circumstances. And here’s the irony: neither political party is looking out for us here, but those “conservative” Republicans who profess to be so pro-family in the US, ardently defend what is BY FAR the most anti-natal public policy in the Western world, the insane US healthcare system, its lack of universal healthcare coverage and predatory insurers with execs making $100 million a year for doing nothing more than being parasites on the real economy.
If this were the only problem, my wife and I could still probably take the plunge with parental help. But on top of this, both of our companies in the tech field gleefully remind us– usually subtly, often less so– that our jobs could be gone at any moment, the very next day, since there are something like 400 million educated but still nearly starving techs in India alone, so desperate for a US green card that they’ll force themselves into indentured servitude for a 3rd of an American’s salary and live in horribly squalid conditions in the faint hope of getting one (aka the H1B visa). What Disney did in laying off their tech workers and replacing them with disposable, easily discarded slave labor from India isn’t the anomaly anymore, US extremist neoliberal capitalism has made it the norm. Again, too many “conservative pro-family” Republicans like Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch just love, love, love the H1B visa and all the cheap labor and indentured servitude it brings in, even though the H1B is the most anti-family labor policy ever developed by a country. This is part of why Donald Trump humiliated Graham, Marco Rubio and all the other H1B pushers among the “conservative” Republicans (libertarian neoliberalism is certainly not “pro-family” conservative in any way), and he does seem to be trying to tackle the abuses, but his hands have thus far been tied and Trump hasn’t been able to reduce the H1B mass gutting of US wages and jobs appreciably.
Thus my wife and I have no job stability, despite top job and performance ratings year after year, in fact as we command higher salaries we’re ever more vulnerable to being “H1B’ed” to cut labor costs and give a short-term boost to stock prices. And in the USA, when you lose your job, you lose your healthcare too.
So honestly– and I’d appreciate any commentary on this esp. from fellow pro-natal evangelical Christians– how can we realistically plan ahead for a family when our jobs have no assurance of being there the next day let alone the next month, AND we lost health coverage to have a baby if we’re laid off, AND even with our “good” health insurance we could be bankrupted by even a slightly complicated pregnancy? And once again, the “conservative” pro-family Republicans are as bad or worse than the “dissolute liberals” among the Democrats in pushing policies and attitudes that are extremely anti-natal. For example, after my cousin’s terrible luck with the bankrupting birth of his first child and the insurance company’s corruption, he tried to ask for help from his (fairly conservative) community, or at least understanding for his predicament. Instead, he and his wife were mocked as being “scroungers” and “welfare losers” when he had to go on Food Stamps for a while, even though he supposedly did everything right with a good job, good health insurance, law-abiding. Nope, the “conservative, up by the bootstraps” attitude in his town– full of Fox News watchers and Rush Limbaugh worshippers– was full of vitriol and contempt by “pro-family conservatives” saying he “should have saved up more” or “should have been more careful” before having their first kid, even though he did utterly everything a reasonable person would be expected to do.
I’m not at all saying I support the decadent values of the Left either, it’s just that the brand of “conservatism” espoused by too many US Republicans is not “pro-family” at all but extremely anti-family in its hatred of basic social and community structures that provide mutual support, in its worshipping of extreme neoliberalism and the ultra-rich, and in the way it allows vulture capitalists like health insurance execs to prey on the American heartland, while denying universal health care and encouraging US corporations in a race to the bottom by gutting unions, working conditions and wages through importation of slave labor from India on the H1B visa. The irony here is, the pro-neoliberal, pro-corporate GOP is slitting its own throat demographically because the hardest hit communities are in the white heartlands that vote GOP, and the fertility rate has crashed there while the region’s God-fearing Christian population is dying off in droves thanks to the opiate epidemic– against pushed by many of these self professed “pro family conservatives” who somehow wind up working against American families, and in favor of mass-murdering drug pushers like the Sackler family and Purdue pharmaceuticals. They pay better bribes than Ozzie and Harriet in the heartland, you see.
I don’t think these are the only factors pushing down the fertility rate of even traditional Christian couples like ours, but you’ll see the same globalist, rent seeking fingerprints all over the other anti-family policies too, and again they’re pushed as much by “conservative” Republicans as by “liberal” Democrats here. Childcare is horridly expensive in even relatively small US cities now, and as much as my wife would like to stay home and care for the kids we hope to have, the real estate bubble and healthcare costs (yes, it comes back to bite over and over again) would trap us in a bind and force the unaffordable daycare expenses upon us. Then there is the cost of schools, the debt trap of private schools to provide a decent education and then the debt storm of college in the US today. And US culture has become outrageously pro-divorce because the divorce lawyers and family courts make so much money off it, and in some states (looking at you, Florida and Arizona among others), alimony and asset loss is so severe that even a well paid professional can be bankrupted by the process. This happened to a doctor neighbor of mine, and his own sons understandably are reluctant to marry– even for the most religiously Christian couples, divorce happens because US culture pushes it, so many are hesitant to take that step.
So to summarize, I agree with your laments Rod, and when it comes to a solution, I think maybe the MOST important is that the US needs a REAL traditionalist, pro-family conservatism and a political party that espouses it, not the grotesque, libertarian, neoliberal, pro-corporate globalist “conservatism” that the GOP establishment pursues, with economic policies resulting in healthcare predation and flooding of the labor market with imported indentured servants, among other policies that are among the most anti-family on earth. The alternative is the steady and rapidly accelerating demise of American culture, or at least Anglo-Saxon culture, which cannot survive when even the “conservatives” who are supposed to protect it are sacrificing it on the altar of extreme capitalism. In other words, US conservatives need to become more like European populist conservatives.
Yes, I said it, and I’ll finish with this point.
I know a lot of posters here and among Christian traditionalists in general are down on Europe, but as someone who has actually worked there (for a period after college) and seen through the haze of misinformation, I am telling you that despite its supposed secularism and loss of traditions, Europe is in MUCH better shape to preserve its traditional demographics and culture than the USA is.
For one thing, the fearmongers constantly overplay the supposed Muslim “takeover” of Europe when recent trends are the opposite. In fact, even since European Union expansion, the actual practical effect of the EU has been to make the large majority of immigration to western Europe from elsewhere in Europe, NOT from Africa or the Middle East (which is more a relic of for ex. Britain’s old colonial empire). All European societies, yes even France and Sweden, are still greater than 90% composed of their traditional European population and (yes, shocking to hear this) a lot more Christian than I think most people in North America grasp. France and Sweden, for example have a higher birth rate than the USA does, and no it’s not because of the immigrant populations but because in France, for instance there’s been a fierce revival of traditional Gallic Catholicism (with an emphasis on having larger families brought up in the Catholic church) that’s gone almost unnoticed in the US. Yes, France is officially secular but the French people are a lot more Catholic than we realize. The Europeans after all, are in their indigenous homelands, and that’s one big advantage that indigenous Europeans have over European-descended Americans, who are not indigenous here.
But it’s more than that– Europe’s conservatives actually are pro-family there and support pro-natalist policies. The US media as usual is embarrassingly confused about populists like Matteo Salvini, Victor Orban, the AfD in Germany, the NF in France, Vox in Spain, the Sweden Democrats and the conservatives in Denmark, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands. These aren’t racists like the media claims, in fact quite the opposite, they are not the ones calling for invasion of foreign countries, but rather for the preservation of their own native European Christian cultures, Christian values and distinctive identities within their ancient homelands. And above all for supporting the family unit, just as you have addressed in your essay here. Europe’s populist conservatives all favor universal healthcare, low cost childcare, free or low cost tuition for colleges, 6 weeks of vacation (great for bonding with the family) and protection of the local labor market and wages. When I worked in Europe all Americans and other foreigners (including many tech workers from India) were paid the same or higher wages than locals, and if any employer tried to undermine the local labor market and wages, he’d be greeted with a prison term. All of these policies by Europe’s populists are friendly for families, and indeed, the birth rate even in the lowest-fertility European countries has been gradually ticking up as populists have gotten into office with a focus on traditional families, Christian values, and social safety nets and universal healthcare and education for the population. That for the USA is headed straight down faster and faster, in fact if you compare apples to apples (say, Americans descended from Scandinavians vs Scandinavians in Scandinavia), the birth rate of Europe-descended American populations is already below counterparts in Europe, and heading down further while the US mortality rate from opiates skyrockets higher.
Europe’s populist conservatives don’t just spout traditionalist rhetoric while accepting bribes to push outrageous anti-family policies, the way establishment “conservative” Republicans in the US do with their gutting of universal healthcare and support for flooding the US labor market with H1B’s. Europe’s conservatives walk the walk, and intelligently mix capitalist and socialist policies in a way that’s friendlier for the local populations to start families, which is why they’ll be fine in the long term. I’ve even known many Americans who’ve moved to European countries and have a much easier time starting families than anywhere in the US. (And in case anyone’s wondering, the taxes are not any higher in Europe, look at all the taxes Americans pay not just federal, ex. business and local and state taxes, and they’re more than most of Europe– a lot of Europe has done away with the property tax for ex. so you can actually own your home outright!)
It seems like Trump is trying to move more in such a populist direction by for ex. limiting H1B indentured servant labor, but on other issues like universal healthcare and the tax bill, he’s towed the neoliberal GOP establishment line, and the result is faster falling birth rates in the American Christian heartland. This won’t change until American political “conservatism” wises up and permanently exiles the neoliberal, rent seeking, globalist insanity that’s having such an anti-family effect here.
UPDATE: A reader writes:
Curiously your reader is wrong about pretty much everything he writes (perhaps because he’s being rational about it).
a) Only tangential to the topic but … (to dispel some common and stupid misconceptions about H1 visas):
– H1 visa holders cannot work in the US on a 1/3 of the US-worker salary. To the contrary, DoL demands that any position offered to an H1 visa holder is paid more than a US equivalent. i.e. an H1 visa holder is always more expensive than a US worker: only those are approved by USCIS. Sure, like everything else, the system can be abused, but in general that is the case. I wish, really wish, that a capable H1 visa holder would apply for one of many openings I have had for more than a year. We have depleted those (H1s eligible people) as well. (this would lead to another (my favorite) discussion topic/lament: how can we sustain a society that is undergirded by technologies so complex that virtually nobody understands them – historically, this is a unique situation).
– H1 status does not lead to Green Card. As a matter of fact, it’s detrimental to transitioning to that status.
– what kinda “STEM” worker is he? Just in my vicinity there are 34,000 openings for anybody who can spell ‘Cybersecurity’. A two-year associate degree fetches a handsome salary of $80k in Northern Virginia.
b) on topic: this is not how you think about having kids. You cannot pre-calculate them. You’d almost never get a positive answer if you were rational about the “can we have kids” question. You simply have kids. Period. Perhaps this is a one of many consequences of sexual revolution. Until recently, planned parenthood was not an option. You had sex, you had kids (sooner or later). Rationality did not apply.
In my opinion, your reader’s rational arguments could be allegorized this way: Life is the most obvious cause of death. Why bother.
On that last point, this is exactly what I meant in the “As Goes The Family…” post when I said that marriage and children have to be taken as primary goods — meaning that the way to think about them is as things that are good in and of themselves. This is not to say that marriage and children are irrational choices, but rather to say that if you stop to think about it too much, you can find all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t take the risk. As I said in that other post, a society in which people have to be convinced rationally that it’s worth it to marry and have families is one that’s in real trouble.
A couple of weeks before my wife gave birth to our first child, my sister, who already had two kids, phoned me to tell me to get ready, because everything was going to change. You are both going to lose your freedom, she said. The liberty you have enjoyed as young marrieds won’t come back until you are both a lot older, and the kids are out of the house. But what you can’t understand until you go through it, she said, is the joy that you’ll have from being a mom and a dad. It’s so very much worth it, she said. You’ll see.
She was right. But at that point, it was solely a matter of faith for us, and following our instincts to want to be a mom and a dad.
UPDATE.2: There are so many strong, passionate comments in the thread below. It’s shaping up to be one of the best threads we’ve seen here in ages, so please read it. Here’s one comment that was exceptional, from reader Devinicus:
I don’t mean to be a jerk here, I really don’t. I support the broad sweep of Gerry’s politics. I sympathize with his situation. I’ve walked more than a mile in his shoes. But the problem here is not anything like what Gerry depicts.
Fertility is more a function of a need for ontological security than a need for economic security. Gerry’s childlessness is due to his very high need for ontological security.
A little bit of my own background. I am currently in my early 50s, married, father of four, stable and secure job in academia. Yet I began my family in my mid-20s while living below the poverty line having a job with zero security of any kind. Our first child was born in the Washington, DC area while my wife was employed and I was in graduate school. DC is a high-cost area (but not nearly as bad in the early 90s as is now) but we had a child anyway. Our second child was born in a big Midwestern city while I was in graduate school and my wife was a stay-at-home mother. We lived near both sets of our parents who helped us out a lot financially, socially, and emotionally. That being said, we lived well below the poverty line. My childrens’ health insurance was initially Medicaid. Later my kids and my wife went on the state government insurance plan for low-income people who were too ‘rich’ for Medicaid. I had insurance through the university. As a grad student working on a dissertation, my employment was semester-to-semester. For a while I worked a second job at a bagel store to make ends meet. My wife worked season retail jobs to help us survive. After I graduated I found a good job. My wife continued to stay home and we had two more children, despite the student loans which we finally paid off AFTER our first child had graduated with her own degree.
My life has involved a level of economic security FAR below that enjoyed by Gerry and his wife. Yet we had children anyway. Why? I think it is first and foremost because we never really thought about whether we should have children. We just did it (no pun intended). When you start debating whether to have children, you’ve already made the first step down the road to childlessness.
This is not an argument against an expanded welfare state. This is not an argument for self-reliance and ‘conservative’ market-based ‘solutions’ to anything. This is an argument for young people ramping down their demands for ontological security. Gerry demands a level of security which is not possible to achieve. He wants a job from which he cannot be fired, neither immigration nor outsourcing, two 6-figure incomes, supportive parents, an exciting urban environment, excellent schools, moderate taxation, and all this BEFORE he agrees to bring a new life into the world.
Gerry compares the US unfavorably to Europe on this score. Yes, the US fertility is lower than that of Sweden and France today (not by much, however). But that is a Great Recession and its aftermath effect. Before 2008, the US was one of only two OECD countries with above-replacement fertility (the other was Iceland). Could the US do better on day care costs? Yes. Are day care costs the reason the US has low fertility? No.
Europe has a swath of pro-natal policies, and most of them don’t work at all. Most European countries with generous welfare regimes have exceptionally low fertility rates. Consider super-social democratic Finland with its TFR (total fertility rate) of 1.6 children per woman (the US is 1.8). Or look at pro-natal Poland with a 1.4 TFR. Or Catholic Italy’s 1.3.
Marriage and parenthood involves inherent risk – not only the risk of impoverishment but the risk of having your heart broken a million times a million different ways. Economic security cannot save you from personal disaster and despair. If you are waiting until all your ducks are in a row, you’ll wait forever.