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TEXAS VIEW: Fewer babies, more deaths spells trouble for America - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Fewer babies, more deaths spells trouble for America

THE POINT: Nation’s fertility rate, life expectancy in decline.

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Posted: Monday, December 9, 2019 5:43 pm

Americans are having fewer babies and dying younger. That grim reality should be part of the conversation as this country tries to get past the wall of political intransigence that has prevented it from constructing a saner immigration policy and better health care system.

It’s time to tear down indiscriminate legal barriers that deny entry to industrious immigrants who could fill jobs and contribute to this country’s well-being. More immigrants in the workforce and paying taxes could help prevent the Social Security and Medicare funding crisis predicted to result as the number of workers contributing to those programs continues to decline.

That’s particularly important given the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the nation’s fertility rate fell for the fourth straight year in 2018; to 59.1 births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age. There were about 3.8 million babies born in America last year, but that’s down 2% since 2017 and 15% since 2007.

The most significant decline occurred among teenage women, which is good news. Their birth rate fell 7.4% last year and has declined 70% since 1991. Conversely, birth rates rose last year for women in their late 30s (up 1% to 52.6 births per 1,000 women) and in their early 40s (up 2% to 11.8 births per 1,000).

Women are waiting longer to have children for a variety of reasons. The median age for a woman’s first marriage has risen from age 21 in 1970 to 28 last year; and from 23 to 30 for men during that same span. The economy and work policies also play roles.

“It’s hard to have children because of a lack of affordable child care and not-very-generous policies for parental leave, especially in comparison to many European countries,” said Melanie Brasher, a University of Rhode Island demographer.

At the other end of the spectrum, life expectancy in this country has declined for three straight years, according to a new report by the Journal of the American Medical Association — dropping to 78.6 years old in 2017. The three-year dip has reversed a trend that saw life expectancy grow from 69.9 years old in 1959 to 78.9 years old in 2014, though it’s part of a long-time slide in which life expectancy in other wealthy nations outpaced that in America.

Suicide, drug overdoses, and a bevy of illnesses related to poor nutrition and lack of exercise — including obesity, hypertension and diabetes — were factors in the life expectancy decline. But so were factors like the lack of universal access to health care, the authors concluded. Like immigration, America’s health care system is in desperate need of improvements, too.

Long before the impeachment inquiry began, Congress and President Trump appeared incapable of forging agreement on either issue. Now that each day in Washington seems to begin and end with the words Ukraine, Biden, and no quid pro quo, the odds are low for anything of substance being done until after the 2020 election — and even that will depend on who wins.

America needs someone truly capable of bridging the partisan divide before we’re all dead and gone.

Odessa, TX

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