2019 | Week of March 4 | #1298
An AP headline in Wisconsin media statewide this week says, “Wisconsin births decline to lowest point in 40 years.” The report notes that the number of babies born in The Badger State in 2017, which is the most recent available data, is the lowest since 1973. Part of me wants to shout, “Hallelujah! Finally someone other than our organization is figuring out we have a birth-rate problem in this state!” Another part of me shudders when I read what some so-called experts are attributing this problem to—fewer teen births.
Let’s take this apart step by step. First, it is true according to the state’s own data that Wisconsin has been below replacement birth rate since 1974.
What’s replacement birth rate? It’s the number of children women need to have, on average, in order to keep population numbers stable. It is simply replacement; not growth. The replacement birthrate number is 2.1 babies per woman. Wisconsin has been at 1.8 or 1.9, and occasionally lower, every year since 1974. Eventually, that trend catches up, and we start seeing the impact.
Now, it is also true that our state’s teen pregnancy numbers have been going down. And, of course, those pushing an anything-but-abstinence approach to sex education have been crowing about this for several years. It’s obvious they are fine with teens been involved sexually, as long as no pregnancy results. Never mind the ever-increasing sexually transmitted disease numbers in teens.
The truth is our state’s low birth rate problem has been happening every year for going on 45 years, including years when teen birth rates were high. It’s remained low—and perhaps gotten even a little lower—in these years when teen births have dropped. What the AP is ignoring—conveniently or otherwise—is the first 40 years of the low birth rate issue. Blaming the current statistics on low teen births is misleading, at best, and dangerous at worst.
So how is this protracted birth-rate problem affecting our state? As the AP reports, one of the most noticeable effects is in public schools. In a public hearing I was in a year or so ago, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards said over 62% of school districts are dealing with declining enrollments. This reality shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Another place where we are seeing the result of low birth rates is in our workforce. Honestly, Wisconsin has more jobs than people. That’s why Governor Walker last year had the state legislature approve a $7 million expenditure for him to woo workers from other states.
Eventually, these reduced numbers will show up in tax receipts as well, because fewer people will be working and paying taxes. It can’t help but happen.
Compounding our problem is 560,000 abortions since 1973 and more people leaving the state than coming into it since 2006.
So the statistics aren’t lying and the results are becoming very apparent. What the AP article doesn’t address is the fix for this problem. One thing is for sure, the fix does not involve in any way more unwed teenagers having babies.
The fix is simple in words—but harder to convince people of. The fix is a return to a culture of marriage and child-bearing within marriage. Making that happen is a matter of both policy and culture. At a minimum, policy should never punish people for marrying or for having children as a married couple. Rather, policy should encourage marriage and child-bearing and adoption within marriage.
Culturally, we need more marriage champions. Family members need to model marriage well, encourage it, and expect it, as well as rejoicing in the birth of babies to married couples. Churches need to extol the blessings of marriage as God’s natural order and plan and the joy of bringing children into a family.
Low birth-rates are real and present very real challenges. Just ask many of the European countries who today are reeling from decades of too few babies. Fortunately, this problem can be fixed and the trend reversed. The question is whether we are willing to do the hard work necessary to make that happen.
For more information and to learn how you can support the work of Wisconsin Family Council, please visit wifamilycouncil.org or call 888-378-7395.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”