By Bob Maistros
Two headlines splashed across adjoining pages of the Wall Street Journal this week underscored a desperate but largely uncommented-on challenge facing America.
“Red Ink Seen for Social Security by 2020,” screamed one, as the program’s outlays will exceed income next year — and its trust fund will be insolvent by 2035.
And directly to the right: “High Court to Take Up LGBT Rights,” discussing three Supreme Court cases that will determine whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation or gender identity.
What links these headlines?
Simply this: Social Security is going broke because we’re in a slow-motion demographic train wreck. As Chief Actuary Stephen Goss put it back in 2011, “Lower birth rates are the cause of (the) substantial and permanent shift in the cost of Social Security as a percent of GDP from 2008 to 2040.”
America’s total fertility rate hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2017 at just under 1.8 children per woman in her lifetime. The stork’s been in free fall since 2010 – and baby-making is cratering in particular among women 20-29, prime reproductive years.
It gets worse. The Journal coverage estimated that old age benefit shortfalls will “account for 90% of larger budget deficits.” Wonder why America is patrolling the seas with a deteriorating fleet half its size compared to the 1980s? Why there’s no money for infrastructure? Or why, despite the Trump boom, we may return to economic secular stagnation?
Dare one paraphrase the 1992 Clinton campaign watchword? “It’s the fertility, stupid!”
So why the plummeting birth rates? Largely, according to Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), because marriage in America is in critical condition.
Stone writes that fertility among married women in 2016 remained above 4.0 per woman across child-bearing years. Yet “a smaller proportion of women are married during (their) peak-fertility years.”
Well, then. What is a government all hot and bothered about non-existent Russian collusion, presidential obstruction and climate change doing about the deep freeze on traditional marriage and impending demographic winter?
Why, it’s doubling down on another obsession: prioritizing the cause of untraditional sexual behavior.
No need to dwell on how the feds have injected themselves into state and societal efforts to regulate sexual behavior since the seemingly innocent 1963 Supreme Court Griswold case overturning bans on selling contraceptives to married couples – and Congress’s subsequent decision to give them to poor single women for free.
Fast forward through Roe v. Wade and the High Court opinion deep-sixing the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by roughly 85% congressional majorities and signed by a Democratic president – after the Obama Administration reversed itself and refused to defend the legislation. And the ruling that mandated recognition of same-sex unions, effectively ensuring all marital benefits to couplings with no impact on fertility.
Which served as the starting gun for the race to advance the agenda of another sexual minority – transgenders. Since the selfsame Obama Administration effectively ordered opposite-sex access to school restrooms, America’s been inundated with controversies over “gender neutral” facilities and pronouns, drag queens reading to kindergartners, and the outrageous dominance of biological boys in girls’ and women’s sports.
Now the justices will again review complaints of aggrieved sexual minorities. The transgender case is especially contentious: the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a funeral home on behalf of a biologically male employee who wanted to dress as a woman, despite the potential effect on grieving families, who are likely not in a mood to sort out their feelings about “gender fluidity.”
It’s no certainty how a new conservative majority will rule on redefining civil rights laws as requested. After all, Justice Brett Kavanaugh clerked for Anthony Kennedy, who penned the same-sex marriage opinions and an earlier ruling striking down a Colorado referendum limiting gay protections.
What if the Court does expand protections to gays and transgenders? Expect years of additional confusion, court battles and government refereeing over matters extending far beyond the workplace to schools, churches, community organizations and – yes – family formation and interaction.
Shouldn’t someone devote the same level of energy and attention to investigating how to preserve the one platform for sexual expression proven to contribute to social and economic well-being?
Funny you should ask. The same day the articles appeared, Tucker Carlson – previously outspoken about the decline of men and their resulting unsuitability as marriage partners – aired a segment entitled “America’s Real Crisis.”
“Why,” the Fox News primetime host queried, “isn’t the conversation about how to help Americans have the number of children they say they want to have, but can’t because they can’t afford it?”
That’s an especially important interrogative. Surveys show women really want an average 2.7 children during their lifetimes – a number that would fund old-age programs into perpetuity.
Carlson insists that going forward, he will start asking guests, “If children aren’t the most important thing, what is?”
It’s a question the Supreme Court – and government as a whole – will have ample opportunity to answer.
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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