When St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center announced this month it was discontinuing its maternity health services due to declining births and working closely with Central Maine Medical Center to have the latter absorb its staff and patients, my first thought was, “Wow, we’ve come a long way from the days when the two hospitals, once jealous rivals, battled each other for patients, funding and prestige!”

My second thought was, “Wow, if this event is the result of a declining birth rate, what does it mean for the future of society?”

In 2021, the two regional hospitals combined handled 1,044 births, only half as many as a few decades earlier.

That local trend is mirrored nationally. The U.S. birth rate has declined from 24.27 per 1,000 population in 1950 to 12.01 today, or roughly by half.

A 2018 Pew Research Institute study concluded that the U.S. birth rate drop was driven chiefly by women’s decisions to postpone childbearing due to “increases in educational attainment and women’s labor force participation as well as delays in marriage.” In particular, teenage pregnancies had fallen by about half in the prior decade, and the median age when women became mothers was 26, up from 23 in 1994.

Older, better educated, and more economically self-sufficient mothers probably make for better parents, but they also raise smaller families.

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While birth rates have been plummeting over the past 72 years, U.S. death rates have remained relatively constant, dropping slightly from 9.65 per 1,000 in 1950 to 9.08 today (in itself a remarkable statistic considering the major advances in medical science that have occurred during that interval).

The net result of all of this is that we’re staying only slightly ahead of the curve in terms of a homegrown effort to produce youngsters to replace our oldsters. The United Nations estimates the U.S. population has increased by about a half percent since 2021 and by a mere 9 million since 2017.

For those who think that the Supreme Court’s imminent overturn of Roe v. Wade and the expected wave of red-state anti-abortion laws will solve the population problem by bringing more fetuses to life, think again. Statistics suggest that free access to abortion actually decreases the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortions, and that strict anti-abortion laws have little impact on stemming abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, unintended pregnancy rates In North America (Canada and the U.S.) have declined by 20% and abortion rates by 45% over the past 30 years. During the period 2015 through 2019, abortion rates in the U.S. fell by 48%, notwithstanding Roe v. Wade.

Guttmacher’s studies have also concluded, based on international surveys, that “abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is restricted and those where the procedure is broadly legal (i.e., where it is available on request or on socioeconomic grounds).”

So if social and economic trends are depressing birth rates and anti-abortion laws are unlikely to reverse America’s population stagnation, how can the U.S. maintain healthy growth?

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What copulation has not achieved immigration can.

Trumpers and their ilk have made “immigration” a dirty word, raising hysterical fears about hordes of foreigners invading the country and “replacing” white Americans. But without immigrants, we would be faced with an inadequate workforce, economic stagnation and graying population.

By 2018, the U.S. foreign-born population had reached a level of just under 45 million (of which about 10.5 million or 23% were illegals), accounting for nearly 15% of the nation’s total population and 17% of its civilian workforce.

The Pew Research Institute projects that as much as 88% of America’s future population growth through 2065 will come via immigration as the country’s census climbs to 441 million. Even that immigrant-driven projection represents far less growth, on a percentage basis, than occurred between 1950 and today, when the population doubled from 158,804 to 334,805 million.

Still, current immigration restrictions are either preventing a sufficient number of people from getting into this country or hindering them from entering the workforce when they do.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, job openings around the nation reached a record-high 11.5 million this March, with 5.6 open jobs for each person looking for work.

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Small wonder, then, that Chamber Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley is urging the federal government to take action.

In a press release on May 6, Bradley stated, “We hear from businesses every day that worker shortage is their top challenge, and it’s impacting the country’s ability to ease supply chain disruptions, get inflation under control and continue our economic recovery. It’s past time for Congress to act on solutions like modernizing our broken immigration system.”

Bear in mind that those words represent an official statement from a top officer of one of the nation’s most conservative, business-oriented organizations, not from a far-left politician like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

So maybe it’s time for the members of Congress to get to work.

They can’t legislate an increase in the birth rate, but they can certainly enact laws designed to responsibly increase the country’s immigration rate.

Elliott Epstein is a trial lawyer with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 16 years, analyzes current events in an historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child,” a book about the notorious 1984 child murder of Angela Palmer. He may be contacted at [email protected]


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