Letter to the editor: Affordability issue to blame for declining birth rates

In his Feb. 14 letter in the Addison Independent, Lowell Nottingham is correct that Vermont and the rest of the country are experiencing a sharp decline in birth rates. However, he is incorrect that there are “no realistic options available to deal with the dropping birth rate.”
One of the primary reasons people are choosing to limit their family size or to forgo having children altogether is because of financial insecurity. According to a recent survey by the New York Times, one quarter of adults between the ages of 20 and 45 had fewer children or expected to have fewer children than they wanted to have.
The most common reasons given for forgoing or delaying children were economic. People reported being concerned about the high costs of child care or feeling like they were unable to afford the children they already had. When one considers that the average cost of raising a child is around $250,000 and that a recent study by the People’s Policy Project found that the presence of minor children in the home is one of the leading causes of poverty in the United States, is it any wonder that people are reluctantly concluding they can’t afford to be parents?
The fact that people who want to have children can’t afford to do so is not just a personal tragedy, but a demographic one. We should all care deeply about Vermont’s declining birth rates if we want our small communities to flourish and thrive.
Thankfully, there are “realistic” policy proposals available that begin to address this challenge. There is currently legislation pending in the Vermont Legislature that would create a system of universal paid family and medical leave (H. 107) and expand access to affordable, high-quality childcare (H. 194). Paid family leave would enable families to take adequate time off to care for and bond with infants or newly adopted children without bearing a huge financial burden due to lost wages. Expanding access to affordable child-care would mean that parents who are ready to return to work would be able to afford to do so. Taken together, both these programs would alleviate some of the staggeringly high costs associated with raising children and I encourage all readers to contact your legislators to support these bills.
However, we should not stop there. Many other countries have created strong social welfare programs for children and families that include universal health care, universal child care and child allowances. There is no “practical” impediment to adopting these programs here, just a lack of political will. If we all dream big and demand more from our legislators, there is no reason why we can’t create a society where all children and families can thrive.
Mariah McGill

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