Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Missing Babies" In The Western World? Of course There's No Mystery!

In an Economist article from April 30th this year, the header appeared to present a quandary: 'The Strange Case of he Missing Baby' (p. 55), with the 'baby' emblematic of all the alleged "missing infants" that should have been born in the West but weren't.   The absence evidently even aroused the consternation of Pope Francis who asserted: "The great challenge of Europe is to return to being mother Europe".

But maybe that isn't possible any longer as the Neoliberal agenda and virus metastasizes to every nook and cranny so that citizens' economic security feels under siege. It is a given then that they would not feel comfortable enough to start or raise a family when each kid costs roughly $235,000 U.S. to raise to maturity.  A hell of a lot more than when my folks raised five kids back in the 50s and 60s, e.g.

Visiting near Everglades National Park in the year 1957. In that year - at that time-  we could all live on one salary of $4,750 a year, believe it or not - and all of us attended parochial schools and ate 3 squares a day.

In those halcyon economic days we could all afford new suits, as well as visiting sundry places including taking trips to St. Augustine, Sarasota, Eureka Springs, Arkansas and Milwaukee. All that despite having only one bread winner - my dad. Try that today and see how far you get with five kids!  Often now, especially since the financial meltdown in 2008, two family earners are needed, just to make enough to afford a roof over the head and food.

Startling new information in the Sunday New York Times pointed out how difficult things are by noting the minimum yearly income a family now needs to live in various cities.  For San Francisco (where I may have to soon return to get further treatment for recurrent cancer) that amounts to a full $119,000 a year. Even for Miami, FLA, where we lived in the 1950s, that's now $84,000 a year. Even accounting for inflation my dad's salary as a commercial artist at Jordan Marsh wouldn't support a family of five in the Miami of today. (It would be about $38,000/yr.)

So basically, my folks would not have been able to afford even two kids, far less the five they actually had. Similarly, why would anyone with sense expect a modern ordinary family (not one of the gilded one percent) to afford any more?

As The Economist piece points out (ibid.):

"The financial crisis abruptly turned the (baby) boom to a bust. Countries in the European Union delivered 5,469,000 babies in 2008 but only 5,075,000 in 2013 - a drop of over 7 percent. That was too much for Kimberly -Clark, the maker of Huggies nappies, which announced in 2012 that it would pull out of most of Europe. In America, the fertility rate fell from a peak of 2.12 in 2007 to 1.86 in 2014. Ken Johnson a demographer at the University of New Hampshire estimates the U.S. is missing 2.3 million babies".

But "missing" in the context above only references loss of corporate sales (e.g. to Kimberly-Clark)  - which is all the Neoliberal cares about anyway.  He doesn't give two shits or a ratfuck about your family and its quality of life, only how many credit card charges he can ring up - to put you further into debt.  And the more babies your family burdens itself with, the larger the credit card debt pile.

"Missing" is also kind of a ridiculous term because it patently assumes all those babies would not be missing if the financial crisis hadn't occurred. But this misses the point that seven more years of zero job growth (to completely account for population increases up to then - via new entries into the work force) had occurred, as well as the fact wage stagnation had gone on for that extra time. So families over that time were still not making headway and there is no evidence at all, zero, that had the crisis not occurred corporations would have added sufficient decent paying jobs for families to afford Denver, St. Louis, Miami, or anywhere.

Indeed, one could argue all the extra people would have inevitably created an even bigger demand for housing, such as here on the Front Range of Colorado, where the median price of a home is now $265,000 in Colorado Springs, and nearly $410,000 in Denver. This has rendered most homes beyond the reach of families forcing them to be renters. So, it's easy for economists sitting in ivory towers to wring hands and pop off about a birth "deficit" but they can do this because they selectively blind themselves to other factors.

So we then come to the 'DUH' revelation (ibid.):

"The crunch was unsurprising: anxiety about jobs and money put people off children."

Then again, adding how "young and even not so young couples" are "finding it hard to buy property" not only in the States but in Europe. And there, as here, there are on average 4 in 10 of  24- to 29-years olds still living with their parents. Moreover they're saddled with college debts,  thanks to the Neoliberal leech student loan model.

One lamo American economist cited in the piece, Richard Easterlin, actually buys the codswallop that babies might be missing because too many people feel they wouldn't be able to raise them in the style to which they themselves were raised.

Hardly! More than likely, they knew that from the get go, given the national lack of affordable housing - plus the lack of jobs, wages to pay for what does exist. It seems it's more a case that people realize having even one kid is folly minus winning a Powerball. And short of that miracle, bringing a kid into the world might only ensure homelessness or destitution.

In terms of the U.S. alleged 2.3 m "missing babies" let's also acknowledge the problems a Neoliberal culture and economy impose - on those with babies, as well as those without. In this regard two recent letters to the NY Times op-ed pages are illuminating. In one, from a Linda Porter of Seattle, we learn (in response to an article advocating a more family -centric workplace by Judith Shulevitz):

"What does Judith Shulevitz' brand of feminism offer  to women who do not have is just assumed that women like me will take over for the new moms. By the time she gets back to work I'm exhausted but there is no leave for me. The same when children are sick, or it's the school play or any other of the myriad times mothers take time  off for their children. Doesn't anyone realize that all that assistance offered to women with children is at the expense of someone else?"

- Points well taken, and again, let me reiterate this is in the context of a workaholic, no free or family time enabled Neoliberal corporate culture.  A corporate culture that also frowns on giving sick days even for restaurant workers suffering from contagious infections like norovirus. Thus, Ms. Porter is right to complain how she and other childless women are the ones left holding the 'jobs to do' bag when co-working moms have to go to the school play, attend a sick kid or whatever.

But it comes from the other side too, as noted by one Joan DeNatale Green writing a letter on the same op-ed page:

"Employers and the general public do not value child care or treat it as a real job."

And she then cites a friend who, on being informed Mrs. Green was returning to work, replied: 'Well, that's a good idea since your husband has been working all these years.'

Again, these disparate views could only emerge from a Neoliberal business culture and general societal culture which leaves every individual to his own devices, to try to find his or her own economic support and security.  Contrast this to the child care support in the 50s when two dollars a day child care was available and as I noted earlier, it wasn't essential for both parents to work.

But again, people in the U.S. mostly are victims of the fundamental attribution error, which notoriously blames individuals for their economic failures as opposed to the economic system itself. Hence, no surprise that working moms could be blamed, e.g. for having soft schedules and dumping work on their childless colleagues, while also themselves blaming the "general public" for "not accepting that motherhood is a real job". Hence the stage is set for strife and division as the Neoliberals want.

One interesting and welcome (to me) aspect of the missing babies syndrome, according to the Economist  (p. 56) is that the American Census Bureau now "has slashed its prediction for the country's population in 2050".

They now have it at 398m instead of 439m. Good! Less clogged highways, as well as hospital ERs, and National Parks - not to mention more (hopefully!) housing stock available.

But, as is their wont, these economists only obsess over the 'glass half empty' aspect of the population decrease whining that (ibid.):

"A fertility rate of only 1.8 would mean twice as large an annual Social Security deficit by 2089".

Not realizing or appreciating that IF those 2.3 m extra babies had been born they'd also want to collect their Social Security.  The way out isn't to keep adding to the population to pay for existing workers' benefits but to cut the military portion of the GDP back to where it was pre- 9/11.

But don't look for these turkeys to move off their higher population bandwagon as the solution to all things financial anytime soon!

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