- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2017

Demographers warn that, by rejecting a proposal to enlarge the child tax credit for millions of poor families, congressional Republicans have missed an opportunity to stem the “baby bust,” which has dropped the U.S. birthrate to its lowest point in decades.

The Senate voted down an amendment to the tax bill last week proposed by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah. It would have raised the corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 22 percent to pay for an $87 billion expansion to the child tax credit over 10 years for low-income Americans.

Although the Senate version of the bill still doubles the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 annually per child, Jonathan Abbamonte, a research analyst at the Population Research Institute, said “the Rubio-Lee Amendment would have helped stem the tide of declining fertility.”

“It would have helped reduce the financial burdens for child rearing on working families,” Mr. Abbamonte said. “However, Rubio’s proposed increase to the nonrefundable tax credit per child that was included in the Senate version of the bill is better than nothing and appears likely to cause a smaller, but nonetheless important, boost to the fertility rate.”

The National Center for Health Statistics released an analysis this year showing the U.S. fertility rate fell to a record low of 62.0 births per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 2016, down from 62.5 in 2015.

Mr. Abbamonte said several cultural and economic factors have contributed to the nation’s falling fertility rate. Easy access to long-acting contraception, such as IUDs, and abortion have had obvious effects on the birthrate. Birthrates also tend to decline in times of perceived or actual economic hardship, and the Great Recession was no exception.

In 2008, at the outset of the economic downturn, there were 68.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.

Higher disposable incomes and lower tax burdens, as well as confidence that the economy will improve, are variables that can influence couples considering bringing children into the world.

On the margins, couples consider whether it will be possible to maintain a standard of living to which they have become accustomed, or meet certain benchmarks in education and career advancement, with the addition of a child.

“The Great Recession has fallen particularly hard on young adults who have historically contributed significantly to the overall fertility rate,” Mr. Abbamonte said. “Following the Great Recession, many young adults struggled to accumulate prerequisites for family formation such as employment, housing and wealth. Increasing student debt has not helped the situation either.”

Indeed, the birthrate for women in their 30s and 40s increased slightly in 2016, the NCHS analysis showed, but not enough to offset the declining birthrate among women in their 20s. Among those ages 20 to 24, the birthrate declined by 4 percent. The rate fell by 2 percent among women ages 25 to 29.

The birthrate among teenagers declined by 9 percent and is just half what it was in 2007, the report found.

The Rubio-Lee Amendment did not fail for lack of support among pro-family conservatives.

The legislation garnered endorsements from The Resurgent editor Erick Erickson and the editors of National Review, but it was opposed by the Club for Growth and The Wall Street Journal editorial board.

President Trump ultimately came out against the amendment, and it failed to gain traction in the Senate, failing by a 71-29 vote.

In a well-publicized tweetstorm last week, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat lamented that many of the president’s supporters like “to talk a lot about civilizational struggles, demographic suicide, the idea that Islam owns the future because Western nations don’t have any babies,” but didn’t support the Rubio-Lee Amendment when they had the chance.

“I’d like to wake up tomorrow and find everyone from Steve Bannon to Tucker Carlson publicly hammering the president and the party on this issue,” Mr. Douthat wrote. “That would be nice. But assuming they don’t, this thread is my way of saying to professional Populist Conservatism, to hell with you.”

If the fertility rate continues to decline, Mr. Abbamonte said, the population will begin to age, leading to a proportionally smaller cohort of working-age adults and a proportionally larger share of retired adults, which would place “great stress on social support systems like Social Security and Medicare.”

“To see what this is like, we need to look no further than a number of other developed countries that are grappling with declining populations such as Japan and South Korea,” he said. “Demographic decline, barring significant technological advancements, would likely slow economic growth. The population will also inevitably age, placing further stress on social support systems.”

Other policies that could address the declining fertility rate include job placement programs to help young adults integrate into the workforce and improved health care access to reduce the unusually high rate of infant mortality in the U.S.

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