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Commentary Politics

Protecting and Expanding Social Security Doesn’t Mean Policing Reproduction

Nancy Altman & Linda Benesch

It is no one’s patriotic duty to have children for the sake of economic security.

Recently, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the media about a drop in the U.S. birthrate. Exhibit A is a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal on why many millennials aren’t having children. Smuggled into the piece were several paragraphs of fear-mongering, claiming that the lower birth rate endangers Social Security. Importantly, nowhere did the word “immigration” appear—a fatal omission.

The truth is that Social Security will continue to be strong, regardless of the birthrate. Indeed, Democrats have introduced several bills expanding Social Security, with no cuts, while bringing in enough new revenue to ensure that the system can pay all benefits in full and on time for the foreseeable future. One of these bills, the Social Security 2100 Act, has more than 200 co-sponsors in the U.S. House. It is fully paid for, in part by, requiring millionaires and billionaires to contribute into Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us do.

To be sure, the Wall Street Journal article does not directly cite the availability of birth control or abortion as a cause for fear around Social Security. Yet the unnecessary panic over the birthrate is particularly ill-timed given the passage of recent laws in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio that would ban abortion in all or nearly all circumstances. None of the laws have taken effect yet due to legal challenges, but given how many new judges President Donald Trump has appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, that could change soon.

With Republicans waging an ongoing war on our reproductive rights, it’s more important than ever to make it clear that politicians—predominantly men—should not force anyone to have children. Politicians should not override the will of those they are supposed to serve. It is no one’s patriotic duty to have children; nor should it be the policy of the United States to conscript our bodies and force us to bear children against our will for the sake of economic security (or for any other reason, for that matter.)

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Instead of waging war on women, those who claim to care about the dignity of their fellow humans should address some of the economic reasons that prevent some people, including those quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, from having children. That is the only real problem with a lower birthrate. It is a preventable tragedy in our wealthy country that those who very much want to have children are being forced to forgo that dream due to financial burdens. These include stagnant wages, student debt, soaring health care costs, lack of affordable housing, and the outrageous cost of child care.

Those who wring their hands at today’s low birthrates should join the fight for a living wage, guaranteed high-quality health care, free public college and cancellation of student debt, and paid family leave. They should support Social Security caregiving credits, which would allow people who take time out of the paid workforce to care for children or other family members to continue to earn their Social Security.

They should be fighting to reject the anti-immigration policies championed by Trump and his allies, and instead welcome immigrants. Immigration is a moral issue, not merely one about Social Security and the economy. Nevertheless, as Social Security’s chief actuary has explained in testimony before Congress, immigrants bring in billions of dollars net to Social Security every year. In fact, an analysis by the Office of the Actuary published in 2013 found that undocumented workers alone contributed approximately $12 billion to Social Security in 2010.

Rather than indulging in misogyny and xenophobia, they should fight for policies that would expand Social Security’s earned benefits and other programs that increase the health and well-being of families in the United States. They should also require the wealthy to pay their fair share. Given that many millennials are rightfully wary of bringing children into a world facing the catastrophic impacts of climate change, they should endorse the Green New Deal and other bold policies to save life on our planet.

If the media wants to stimulate fear for clicks and ratings, there is plenty to focus on without exploiting unwarranted fears about Social Security and private decisions regarding childbearing. If you are worried about the real threats of climate change, gun violence, and endless war, fight for change. If you are worried about your retirement security, fight to expand—not cut—Social Security.

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