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Robbing from the Poor: Underpopulation Strikes America

March 3, 2000

Volume 2/ Number 5

Dear Friend and Colleague:

With America’s labor markets tightening, Alan Greenspan proposes to increase legal immigration levels. At the same time, President Clinton is paradoxically preparing to extract from the US taxpayer record sums aimed at reducing the number of babies born at home and abroad.

Steven W. Mosher


Robbing from the Poor: Underpopulation Strikes America

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, in recent testimony before Congress, has said he wants to increase the annual immigration quota by 130,000. “As we are creating an ever more complex, sophisticated, accelerated economy,” said Greenspan on 17 February to members of the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress, “the necessity to have the ability to bring in resources and people from abroad to keep it functioning strikes me as a relevant policy.” Greenspan fears that an acute shortage of hi-tech workers will hobble the economy, impeding further economic growth.

In response, both the House and the Senate have introduced legislation to increase the numbers of hi-tech visas to qualified foreigners, though the numbers are far less than Greenspan requested. The House bill provides for 45,000 more visas this year, the Senate’s 80,000 (“Bill Would Raise High-Tech Visas,” by Michelle Mittelstadt, AP, 1 March 2000). An industry trade group, the Computing Technology Industry Association, claims nearly 269,000 high-tech jobs now go begging, costing US businesses some $4.5 billion annually in lost production.

The shortage of American workers is not limited to the hi-tech field. Help wanted signs are blossoming in cities and towns throughout the country. Employment levels are at historic highs.

America’s present-day labor shortage was in part created by policy decisions made three decades ago. By 1970 the national media were claiming that the most pressing issue of the day was overpopulation. John D. Rockefeller, as Chairman of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, pushed the Nixon administration to act to curb the US population growth rate. The US Congress responded with the Family Planning Services Act (The Bush-Tidings Amendment to Title X), which authorized $382 million for family planning programs, and which Nixon promptly signed into law.

Rockefeller’s principal argument was that above-replacement birth rates threatened “the vitality of business” (John D. Rockefeller, Letter to the President and Congress, transmitting the final report of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, 27 March 1972). In other words, he got things exactly backwards.

By 1977, America’s birthrate had dropped below replacement. Goaded again by anti-natalist propaganda, Congress pumped millions into high school sex-ed campaigns. (See Jacqueline Kasun, The War Against Population, Ignatius Press, 163-166.) Teen promiscuity surged, teen abortion rates skyrocketed, but the birth rate continued to fall.

It is interesting to note that the 1977 shortfall in births was approximately 130,000, exactly the number Greenspan noted we now need. Had the birth rate remained at replacement, we would each year have 130,000 more young Americans in the work force or completing college, beginning graduate school or in the military, forming families and buying homes and cars (extrapolated from UN Population Division’s, “World Population Prospects,” The 1998 Revision, 412-413.) America’s current labor shortage would have been partially-or completely-offset.

Some would say that it is pointless to mourn the loss of these young people. We can turn to the outside world, as Greenspan has suggested, and draw the young hi-tech workers of other nation’s into our economy to generate more wealth. But even here there is a problem. Where in the world are these young people going to come from?

The developed world is, for the most part, experiencing labor shortages of its own. The populations of Italy, Spain and Portugal are in absolute decline, and most of the rest of Europe will follow in a few years (UN Population Division, “World Population Prospects,” The 1998 Revision). Japan and the rest of the developed world is not far behind. The developed world cannot supply more than a fraction of the US need without crippling its own economic growth.

In developing countries, technologically-skilled workers remain in short supply. Moreover, these workers are critical to the economic development of their native lands. What will happen to India’s burgeoning hi-tech industry if a few ten thousand of its most skilled software programmers, engineers, and other hi-tech workers emigrate? This brain drain may well condemn many poor countries to continued poverty, an outcome we should avoid at all costs as we build our “complex, sophisticated, accelerated economy.”

America is a nation of immigrants, and we should continue to welcome strangers into our midst. But we must also do a better job of educating our own people, so that they will be qualified to take advantage of the hi-tech opportunities of the future. Finally, we must end the war against people on the home front, enacting pro-natal policies that will raise the birth rate in this country back up to pre-1977 levels.

In view of our current labor shortage, the Clinton administration’s effort to increase funding for domestic population control programs (read: “family planning programs”) by $35 million seems particularly shortsighted. We are already experiencing a birth dearth of historic proportions that is threatening to cripple the economy. Why should we spend tens of millions of dollars more to make the baby shortage even worse?

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