According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2006), 10.8% of adults in the U.S., and 17.4% of children, live below the poverty line. As long as the poor reproduce at a higher rate than the non-poor, it stands to reason that the rate of poverty will increase. We’ve tried for years to reduce poverty by subsidizing it. That hasn’t worked. No matter how much money we pay poor people to have more children, the numbers of the poor keep increasing. It would seem that a more effective approach would be to try to reduce the rate of reproduction among the poor.
It’s irresponsible to have more children than one can afford to raise. If the poor have high birth rates because they choose to have more children, the solution is to hold them accountable for their choices. If everybody knew they would have to assume full responsibility for any children they brought into the world, people would stop having more children than they can afford. But, as long as we reward people for doing something we don’t think they should do, why should we be surprised that they keep doing it?
On the other hand, if the poor have more children, not by choice, but by accident, then we should make it easier not to have accidents. The consequences to society of unwanted children go far beyond just the cost of public assistance programs. There are tremendous social costs as well. A great many people who live in poverty are drug and alcohol abusers. Fetal alcohol syndrome causes irreversible neurological damage to the frontal lobes, resulting in the incapacity to develop judgment, empathy, remorse, and conscience. A high percentage of FAS babies are irremediably destined to be sociopaths.
“On average, each FASD individual costs the taxpayer more than $3 million in his or her lifetime (health problems, special education, psychotherapy and counseling, welfare, crime, and the justice system).
More than 60% of prisoners are likely affected by alcohol in utero. It costs approximately $120,000/year to “house” a Young Offender and $82,000 for an adult offender. Punishment does not cure neurological damage.”
— Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society
Not all unwanted children are born with neurological defects. But even a normal infant, born to a mother who resents their existence and is ill-equipped to raise them, isn’t likely to grow into a well-adjusted productive member of society. Consider the mother who’s addicted to drugs, and will leave her baby with anyone while she goes out to find her next fix. Consider the children of prostitutes whose closest thing to a father figure is their mother’s pimp. In our inner cities, generation after generation grow up immersed in a lifestyle of drugs and crime, accepting that as normal, because it’s the way they were raised.
Children who grow up neglected or abused tend to end up as either predators or prey. We already have an enormous problem with abuse of social services by people who see themselves as victims of society, and believe the world owes them whatever they can get. We already have an enormous problem with more criminals than we have resources to warehouse. How will we manage to deal with ever-increasing numbers of such people? To reduce the proliferation of poverty, we have to reduce the rate of reproduction among the habitually poor.
I see four ways to accomplish this.
- Stop paying people to have babies. Those who can afford to raise children don’t need to be subsidized, and those who can’t shouldn’t have them.
- Make birth control readily available. Providing birth control does not encourage immoral or irresponsible behavior. Obviously, that behavior happens anyway. I’m far more concerned with the consequences to society of the lack of birth control than with making sure people who don’t care are aware of our disapproval.
- People who are too irresponsible, or stoned, or whatever, to use birth control are likely to be too irresponsible, or stoned, or whatever, to raise a child. Any children they end up having are at a high risk for the kind of irreversible neurological defects that exact a huge toll on society. While I’m opposed to abortions of viable fetuses, I do not oppose early-term abortions. In some situations, there are worse things than not being born.
- Sterilization should be made an option for people seeking abortions. For women seeking abortions at government expense, I’m in favor of offering a monetary incentive for voluntary sterilization. It would be far more cost effective in the long run to pay a lump sum up front than to pay indefinitely after the child is born, and it would reduce the overall number of abortions as well as the number of future children to be raised at taxpayer expense.