Welcome to the Baby Bust

When House Speaker Paul Ryan urged U.S. women to have more children, and Ross Douthat requested “More babies, please,” in a New York Times column, they openly expressed what U.S. policymakers have been discussing for decades with greater discretion.  Using technical language like “age structure,” “dependency ratio,” and “entitlement crisis,” establishment think tanks are raising the alarm: if U.S. women don’t get busy having more children, we’ll face an aging workforce, slack consumer demand, and a stagnant economy.

1-US-Birthrate-1900-2018-SOURCE-v2Feminists generally believe that a prudish religious bloc is responsible for the protracted fight over reproductive freedom in the U.S., and that politicians only attack abortion and birth control to appeal to those “values voters.”  But hidden behind this conventional explanation is a dramatic fight over women’s reproductive labor.  Continue reading “Welcome to the Baby Bust”

The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work (New Labor Forum)

1_O1j-elo0IZB0AL38eBgW-wNational Association of Manufacturers billboard in Memphis, Tennessee, 1937. (Edwin Locke/Library of Congress)

From New Labor Forum, vol. 29, issue #1, 2020

The U.S. birth rate is now the lowest it has ever been. Other countries, confronting low birth rates in the twentieth century, instituted supports to make raising children more appealing. They provided universal child care, health care, paid leave, child allowances, and shorter working hours. The United States, by contrast, has taken the low-cost route to raising new generations: poor access to birth control and abortion. But despite these obstacles, women are refusing. This article will explore what it would take for working people in the United States—and women in particular—to leverage our spontaneous birth slowdown into family-supporting policies.

Starting in the 1980s, while birth rates in most developed countries dropped, U.S. rates remained elevated. We had higher teen pregnancy rates, and higher unintended birth rates, about twice those of Sweden and France.1 But more recently, the U.S. rate has declined, across ethnic groups, and is now considerably below the 2.1 “replacement rate” required for a stable population, reaching 1.72 in 2018 (see figure on following page). The women’s liberation group Redstockings in 2001 described this as a “birth strike,” a reaction to the difficult conditions women face having and raising children.2

Surveys indicate that potential parents are deterred by the costs of child care and housing, long or irregular work hours, low wages, unreliable health care, and student debt.3 In National Women’s Liberation (for which I am an organizer), women name these factors as reasons to stop at one child or have none at all. In consciousness-raising meetings, testifiers describe the stress and exhaustion of their “double day”—eight or more hours of paid work and then an additional eight hours a day of unpaid care work and housework. Others recount difficulty finding partners who are willing to take the plunge into parenthood, wary of the time commitment and costs. Some say they were deterred by memories of their mothers’ struggle to raise them.

As in other countries with modest birth rates, government and corporate planners from both sides of the aisle would like the U.S. birth rate to be higher. “Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both,” the Wall Street Journal claimed in 2015. “In either case, economic growth suffers.”4

“Declining birth rates constitute a problem for the survival and security of nations . . . in the broadest existential sense of national security,” wrote Steven Philip Kramer of the National Defense University in his 2014 book, The Other Population Crisis: What Governments Can Do about Falling Birth Rates. “For several hundred years, economic growth has been tied to prosperity . . . Growth in population has increased the size of the domestic market and labor force.” While many scholars continue to worry about the effect on the environment of expanding global populations, in fact birth rates are now dropping in most of the world and total population is expected to be stable or declining by 2100. Among continents, Europe, Asia, North and South America are expected to have less population in 2100 than in 2050. Only Africa is expected to grow.5


Data from Jay Weinstein and Vijayan K. Pillai, Demography: The Science of Population (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), 208, and National Center for Health Statistics Births, Final Data for 2016.


READ the rest in New Labor Forum. 

Bosses, Birth Rates, and the Battle over U.S. Immigration Policy

By Jenny Brown

From the fall 2019 issue of the Socialist Forum, a publication of the Democratic Socialists of America.SocialistForumgraphicforJBarticle

The U.S provides very little support for parents—no paid parental leave, expensive childcare and college, unreliable health care that can bankrupt you, pay that requires both parents to work, and long working hours. These conditions are contributing to the U.S.’s lowest-ever birth rate: 1.72 children per woman, well below the 2.1 rate required for a stable population.  But instead of taxing the rich to provide support for childrearing, as other countries have done, the U.S. employing class has been carefully avoiding the costs of reproduction of its workforce. These costs are instead pushed onto families, to be paid out of their strained wages. The level of exploitation has reached the point that U.S. parents, and women in particular, are having fewer kids. It’s an uncoordinated “birth strike” in response to all the unpaid work, stress, and exhaustion.  And now there’s evidence the low birth rate is freaking out establishment think tanks and policymakers.

Immigration has always been the U.S. employing class’s answer to lower birth rates, so why won’t it suffice now?  Immigrant workers arriving as adults substitute for the children U.S. women didn’t produce, and if they settle here permanently, may have children of their own. But now we’re seeing new levels of anti-immigrant fury while pundits and politicians plead with U.S. women to have more babies. This article will examine what is going on.

Instant Adults

Establishment Democrats have settled on immigration “for our country’s long-term growth strategy” and as “a source of economic vitality and demographic dynamism.”  Most elite Republicans agree. “Immigrants and their children have made up over half the workforce growth in the country for the last twenty years,” said Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas president Robert Kaplan in response to a crackdown on immigrants early in the Trump administration. “Because of aging demographics . . . if we do things that limit sensible immigration, we are likely to slow GDP.” Likewise, the Koch brothers, hardly known for their concern for the well-being of immigrants, have been pushing Congress to allow people brought to the U.S. as children to stay.

However, immigration has caused discomfort as well as joy for the ruling class—a contradiction that has been a recurring theme of U.S. history. In the 1870s, and again at the beginning of the twentieth century, immigration and the birth rate were often discussed in the same breath: If native-born women don’t have more children, we’ll be overrun by immigrants. Fear of Slavs, Jews, Catholics, and Chinese has been replaced with fear of Latinos and Muslims, but the alarmist claims endure: They’re disloyal, they bring foreign ideas, an alien religion, class conflict, crime, drugs, they won’t assimilate, they’ll come to outnumber “real Americans.” Still, distaste for outsiders always seems to yield when employers need their brain and muscle.

These days, while Democrats largely embrace immigration as an answer to low birth rates, the Republican establishment is split. One faction supports immigration, while the other complains that immigrants will demand government benefits, vote for Democrats, and bring class war. Even the pro-immigration side worries that the flow of immigrants is unsustainable politically, and lately they worry that the supply will run out due to declining birth rates in the immigrants’ countries of origin.

Pro-immigration Republicans are quite candid that they favor immigration to compensate for the low U.S. birth rate. In a 1997 New York Times op-ed the late Ben Wattenberg, of the pro-corporate American Enterprise Institute, identified immigration as a cheap way to cope with an aging U.S. labor force. “The median age of legal immigrants to the United States is twenty-eight,” he wrote. “These are men and women who have been raised and educated on someone else’s nickel. They typically pay into Social Security and Medicare for about forty years before drawing upon them.”

Wattenberg let slip a truth that is often hidden in the immigration debate: Immigration is a colossal rip-off of the labor and resources of the mothers, parents, communities, and countries the immigrants leave behind. This reverses the mainstream narrative that immigrants are a drain on the economy and should be grateful to be here. In fact, Mexico, India, the Dominican Republic, and other sending countries are subsidizing U.S. employers by raising these workers to adulthood.

Wattenberg favors pro-natalist tax policies, but they’re too slow for him. Even if tax breaks for parents are increased, he writes, “a baby born nine months from now won’t even start paying into life’s Ponzi scheme for a generation. . . . And that happens only after we spend a lot of money to raise and educate the child. . . . A quicker fix would be ‘instant adults.’ As it happens, they are available: immigrants.”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is almost as frank in Immigration Wars, a book dedicated to changing U.S. laws to increase immigration: “America’s population is shrinking and aging. We need more immigrants to stem that debilitating demographic tide. . . . A demographic time bomb . . . is shaking the sustainability of our savings for retirement, the viability of the entitlement system, and our ability to create robust economic growth.”

Jeb Bush recognized that much of his party’s base opposed increased immigration, but when he wrote his book in 2013 he hoped to avoid the venomous split that occurred in 2006. Then, the U.S. House passed a bill to punish and expel immigrants who were without proper papers. Twelve million would have become felons. The Senate favored a program that allowed immigrant workers to stay, while creating expensive hoops for them to jump through—also known as a “path to citizenship.”

President George W. Bush backed the more pro-immigration Senate bill, which put anti-immigration pundits in a froth. Patrick Buchanan accused the president of allowing an “invasion” and wrote in his book State of Emergency that President Bush would be remembered for a “dereliction of constitutional duty.”

Fox News host John Gibson waded into the debate by instructing white viewers to “Do your duty. Make more babies!” Gibson raised the specter of a Latino majority in the United States: “By far, the greatest number [of children under five] are Hispanic. You know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic.” His logic may have been faulty, but his projection of Fox’s racial anxiety was precise.

After he was criticized for racism, Gibson backed off, implying that children of any color were needed: “To put it bluntly, we need more babies . . . or put another way, a slogan for our times: ‘procreation not recreation.’”

Along with the Bushes, most corporate owners favored some form of immigration bill and were angry at House Republicans who opposed the Senate bill on “cultural” grounds. Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot grumbled that the anti-immigration right “isn’t even rational anymore.” His wing of the Republican party, more concerned with corporate labor force requirements than the national origin of that labor force, supported a bill that would broaden a work permit system, euphemistically called a “guest worker” program. As long as you are working, the system allows you to stay. If you are laid off or fired, you can be deported. Employers thus avoid paying for unemployment insurance for the workers they have discarded, and don’t have to face their political protests either.

Jeb Bush also emphasized “work-based” immigration and goes further, urging lawmakers to get rid of family reunification as a criterion for immigration. Family reunification makes it possible for immigrants to eventually bring close family members to the United States. But in keeping with their desire to import young adults and avoid paying for children or old people, Bush and his Immigration Wars coauthor, Clint Bolick, write: “Extended family members typically do not produce the economic benefits that work-based immigrants do, and they impose far greater costs. Many extended family immigrants are children, elderly people, or others who do not work[,] yet often consume … social services such as schooling and health care.” Instead, he urges that only the spouse and children of the immigrant should be permitted to follow them to the United States. Forget about your family, you’re here to work!

[Rest of the article at Socialist Forum, a publication of the Democratic Socialists of America.]

Support the Kickstarter to help launch “Without Apology”

Publisher’s Weekly calls Without Apology a “laser focused polemic.” Amelia Bonow of Shout Your Abortion says, “Without Apology manages to make perfect sense of the current political moment.” Nona Willis Aronowitz says, “Without Apology draws an exhilarating line in the sand between reformers and visionaries, between near-sighted regulation and true reproductive freedom.” Support the Kickstarter here, and get the book.



Women on Strike—A Birth Strike


Book Review by Judy Ancel

More than 120 years ago the American Federationist, the newspaper of the American Federation of Labor, printed an editorial denouncing the entry of women into the trades. One of its many nuggets of misogyny was this: “The wholesale employment of women in the various handicrafts must gradually unsex them.”

That term was probably as unclear then as it is today, but if unsexed means women today are declining to pursue “nature’s dearest impulse” (another of the article’s nuggets), then we are indeed unsexed, because there’s a birth strike going on.

It seems the more we labor outside the home, the less we engage in that other form of labor—childbirth. Women may still be barely visible in the trades, but our wage work has become an essential part of the economy.


The political economy of our role in production and reproduction and our rejection of the double burden is the subject of Jenny Brown’s Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work (PM Press, 2019).

Brown, a former co-editor of Labor Notes, begins by citing the declining birth rate in the United States—currently 1.76 births for every two people. Population politics are an essential part of this book, and the U.S. has gone from panic about overpopulation in the 1970s to fear that we won’t replace ourselves now. Elite thinkers, says Brown, are concerned that shrinking population brings a shrinking economy, which is not good for business.

So are corporations and government encouraging women to have more babies? In a way. They’re making it hard not to have babies, by failing to cover birth control and restricting access to it and by making us run a gauntlet to get an abortion—in many places today abortion is impossible or prohibitively expensive. Forced pregnancy appears to be their policy.

But having children is increasingly difficult, with no mandated paid family leave, inadequate health coverage, and very expensive childcare. In fact, the high cost of raising kids on flat incomes is the main reason women are avoiding pregnancy in unprecedented numbers. That’s why Brown calls it a birth strike.

She contrasts the U.S. with the rest of the world, where most of the wealthier countries make it much easier to work and have kids. She zeroes in on Germany, France, and Sweden. There, punitive policies that made it difficult to avoid pregnancy failed, so governments incentivized childbirth by providing what they call a social wage. This includes free childcare, paid family leave and sick leave, paid vacations, pensions, and universal health care. So why doesn’t the U.S. do the same? ….

Rest at: https://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2019/09/book-review-women-strike-birth-strike

Birth Strike Study Guide

Birth Strike Study Guide CoverNational Women’s Liberation has developed a consciousness-raising study guide to go with Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s WorkIt can be downloaded here.

Here’s a sample:

Meeting 1

Read pages 1—59 of Birth Strike:


Chapter 1. International Comparisons

Chapter 2. Small Government, Big Families

Chapter 3. Is it a Birth Strike?  Women Testify

Consciousness-Raising questions

a. What are your reasons for wanting children? For not wanting them?

b. Has your thinking on this changed? Are your parents’ lives a factor in

    your thinking?

c. Do you experience pressure from anyone on the subject?

Alternate question:

a. What care work do you do (child rearing, care for elderly family members,

    or others in your life needing care)?

b. What care work do the men in your life do?

c. Have you tried to get them to do more? What happened?

Study questions

1. Who is the power structure?  What are some terms people use to describe these   

    individuals? Which terms do you prefer?  Why?

2. To what do you attribute the continuing battle over abortion and birth control

    in the U.S.? Did the reading change your view?  How?

3. What caused other countries to develop universal programs such as childcare,     

    healthcare, paid family leave, and family allowances?

4. What do “pro-family” conservatives mean by family?  What is their ideal of family

    life?  Who would benefit from that?

Jacobin: Abortion Is Our Right To Strike

GettyImages-108294014Abortion isn’t a “cultural” issue. The production of children, and who will pay for it, is a key economic battlefront.

For decades, we’ve been told that abortion is merely a wedge issue used by Republicans to split working-class Catholics from the Democratic Party and excite a Protestant evangelical base. “Starting in the 1970s,” feminist law professor Joan C. Williams writes, “Republicans have offered support for working-class anti-abortion views in exchange for working-class support for pro-business positions.”

According to this view, politicians and the one percent really don’t care one way or the other about abortion — they’re just using the issue to get votes. This reading of US politics is so common that if you ask a group of feminists today why abortion is under attack, someone will explain that it is a political ploy to capture the support of conservative “values” voters. Thomas Frank even argues that banning abortion would be against the interests of these political forces because they would lose an issue to mobilize around.

But this explanation has frayed as abortion restrictions have proliferated, with several states now down to one abortion clinic and repressive regulations making abortion difficult to obtain for many and impossible for some. Even “blue” states like Minnesota throw up obstacles to those who want abortions. Several states have banned abortion outright, racing to be the one whose law overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized most abortions. Birth control, too, has come under attack, revealing that the stated goal of reducing abortions is a ruse.

While other “cultural issues,” such as same-sex marriage and cannabis legalization have been making progress, we have gone backward on abortion. This is because abortion is wrongly classified as a cultural issue. In fact, the production of children — and who will pay for it — is a key economic battlefront.


Continues at: