An hour after my daughter was born, I found myself racing back and forth between my wife’s hospital room and my newborn’s crib in a neonatal intensive-care unit. Both faced dire health challenges. It was the worst experience of my life, but in the end, mother and baby recovered.
The ordeal taught me something: Nothing on this earth is more fulfilling than being a husband and father.
Driving home from the hospital, I received a call: I’d been accepted to Yale Law School. After overcoming one obstacle, I would soon face another as a young dad and a law student.
A year later, I’ve had the privilege of telling my classmates about the joys of marriage and parenthood — but not everyone has been receptive. One student told me it might be “unethical” to have children in today’s America.
That view is distressingly common among our elites. Many climate activists, including AOC, fret that children increase our carbon emissions over their lifetime, hastening an ecological crisis. Apparently, human life loses intrinsic value in a crisis.
Well, there is another crisis plaguing our country: At 1.7 births per woman, the US fertility rate is at its lowest level in modern American history. Recent research shows that we haven’t experienced replacement-rate fertility since 2008. In other words, 13 years have passed since we last produced enough children to even maintain current population levels.
It turns out that our downward population trajectory comes with consequences. As elderly people live longer, there are fewer working-age citizens to pay into Social Security and Medicare programs — adding more stress to an already-strained system.
As a former US Army officer, I’m also concerned about long-lasting national-defense ramifications. A decline in young Americans means our military could find it difficult to maintain readiness as an all-volunteer force. In South Korea, another country experiencing population decline, the military is expected to shed 100,000 troops in the next four years. We could easily find ourselves on the same path if trends continue.
Fewer babies breed major cultural worries, too, like rising loneliness and less societal happiness. Our sense of isolation and alienation long predated the lockdowns. Compounding the unhappiness, there is a significant gap between how many children people say they would like to have versus how many children our society births.
So, what’s the holdup?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to raise children in today’s America. It boils down to two things: cost and culture.
Day care is astronomically expensive for young parents like me. Many working-age men are unable to find employment. Housing costs continue to skyrocket. Student debt cripples nearly my entire generation — delaying family formation for some and leaving others with little impetus to marry and start a family at all.
Then there’s the growing anti-family sentiment, especially among elites. Babies are seen as obstacles in the fight against climate change and the quest for personal “fulfillment.” Life in the womb is no longer considered a gift but an inconvenience to be discarded at will.
Even before my daughter was born, our doctor assumed that my wife and I — a young black couple — wouldn’t want to keep our child. The doctor kept insisting that there were “other options” if we chose not to follow through with the pregnancy.
Since blacks account for over 36 percent of abortions (despite only comprising 14 percent of the childbearing population), I suppose a young married black couple just didn’t look like parents to a pro-abortion physician.
Like many issues, the population crisis has no easy solution. There are, however, public-policy options that can help. Congress could pass pro-family legislation such as enhanced child tax credits that lessen the financial strain on those who serve society by raising kids.
It’s not all top-down, though: Everyday Americans could help by promoting marriage and family life as the foundation of a flourishing society. Cheer on the newlywed couple; babysit for the exhausted parents; volunteer at a nearby orphanage.
Children are both financially and emotionally expensive. Sure, my daughter will cost me a number of headaches and heartaches (and yes, increased carbon emissions) over the course of her life. But given the incomparable joy that she brings into our home, our neighborhood and our country every day, she has already paid her bill in full.
Jeremy C. Hunt is a US Army veteran and a student at Yale Law School.