Using statistics that indicate Americans are not repopulating at a sustainable rate, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Americans need to have more babies to offset the exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce. But while increasing the birth rate would replace Baby Boomers, Democrats have pointed out that there are other solutions to this population challenge — like, instead of having more babies, Americans could reform immigration.
"This is going to be the new economic challenge for America: people. Baby boomers are retiring — I did my part, but we need to have higher birth rates in this country," Ryan said, according to The Hill.
In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data that indicated that the American birth rate had declined by 1 percent between 2015 and 2016. That would make the fertility rate about 62 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The decline in the birth rate is partially attributed to the lack of young women having children. According to The Washington Post, the birth rate for women in their 30s and 40s has increased, but not enough to combat the lack of babies being had by women in their 20s and their teens.
It's well-known that millennials are tending to wait until later in life to have children. They are a generation that prioritizes education and career-building, despite stereotypes that claim they are lazy and reliant on their parents for support. With this in mind, it's not entirely possible to know whether millennials will have a significant amount of children in their 30s or 40s, but as of now, many of them are definitely are putting it off.
However, having children isn't the only way that the United States could sustain its workforce population. There is another massive group of people who are willing and able to work: immigrants. While Republicans may point to childbirth as the best way to combat a potential population decline, some Democrats point to reforming immigration as an alternative.
A 2013 study by the Center for American Progress points to immigrants — and their children — as a sustainable and likely replenishment for workforce gaps created when Baby Boomers retire. "We project that over the next two decades, nearly 83 million people will enter the workforce. More than two-thirds of all new entrants to the workforce will be needed to replace today’s workers," the researchers wrote. They went on to estimate that 31.5 million of the 83 million new workers will be immigrants and their children.
However, if many Republicans were to have their way, immigration to the United States would slow down, not speed up. Historically, President Donald Trump and other like-minded members of his party have sought to decrease immigration and naturalization, even in situations that are totally legal. In August, for example, Trump threw his support behind a bill that would cut the amount of immigrants to the United States in half.
"This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first," Trump said at the time. However, enabling immigration could very well be the healthier option, insofar as helping American families goes.
An October report by Politico found that Baby Boomers may well need immigrants, not only to fill jobs, but to fill jobs to take care of their ailing generation. According to the report, while immigrants (documented and undocumented) make up about 17 percent of the health care sector, they make up a whopping 24 percent of home health aides. And incidentally, home health aides are expected to be one of the fastest growing job positions in the coming decades, largely because of the rapidly aging Baby Boomer population that will come to rely upon them.
Ryan may believe that having babies is the best way to solve a decreasing fertility rate, but people have pointed out that there are other, more economical options that don't require telling women what to do with their bodies. Instead, supporting those who are already willing to contribute to the economy just might be the more sustainable choice.