After weeks of promoting the Republican tax plan, which would raise taxes on the average American family within the next decade, and years spent pushing policies that benefit corporations and the wealthy over middle- and lower-class households, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) suggested Thursday that Americans should have more children in order to keep entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security afloat.
The United States saw record low birth rates in 2016, with only 62 births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age—down one percent from the year before.
While the U.S. is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, U.S. News and World Report found it to be far behind many European countries in its annual ranking of the Best Countries to Raise Kids earlier this year, due to its relative lack of support systems for parents and children.
The U.S. placed only at number 19 on the list, with the magazine noting that higher-ranking countries including Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Canada, had higher scores for income inequality, healthcare, well-supported public education, and other categories.
Ryan has offered little support for programs that would make healthcare, education, and family leave possible for families—likely making Americans as eager to reproduce as previous generations—and has promoted programs that would actively make child-rearing less accessible for many families.
The GOP's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which passed in the House with almost unanimous support from Republicans, would exclude about 10 million children from its Child Tax Credit increase, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The tax bill is being reconciled in Congress now, but according to reports the final version is expected to benefit the wealthy over average American families even more than the House and Senate bills did.
The tax plan would also eliminate tax deductions for student loan interest and tax cuts for undergraduates and graduate students, suggesting that while Ryan is happy to urge Americans to procreate, he has little interest in assisting their children should they attend college.
Ryan has shown disdain for the types of programs that put child-rearing within reach for families in many other countries, including family leave. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't guarantee paid leave for new parents, and in 2009, Ryan voted against a bill that would allow federal employees to use up to four weeks of vacation time for parental leave—far less generous that the leave offered to families in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and many other countries.
Earlier this year, Ryan also spearheaded the House GOP's attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which included an amendment that would have allowed states to refuse prenatal and delivery room care, leaving women with up to $17,000 in surcharges for maternity care according to the Center for American Progress.
At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall noted that Ryan's concerns over continuing to fund Medicare and Social Security could be alleviated through means other than imploring Americans to have babies they may have trouble affording under Republican policies:
As Americans live longer and have fewer children, the political economy has needed more young people than what economists call 'natural increase' can manage. That's a key reason why relatively high rates of immigration has become so key to sustaining not just economic growth but the ability of working age payroll taxes to sustain these programs which mainly but not exclusively go to older people. There are other ways to help these programs: like ending the tax breaks that allow wealthy people to pay lower rates than working people.
On social media, other critics denounced Ryan's insistence that Americans aren't reproducing enough, while he and his party do little to incentivize raising children in the U.S.
Paul Ryan logic. Cut entitlement programs that help families. Fewer people having babies because they can't afford them. Ask people to have more babies so entitlements don't have to be cut further.
Yeah, makes total sense. https://t.co/6Avrt7iKNC
— Tanya (@TANyanotTONya) December 14, 2017
Hmmm, you want more babies? Subsidize prenatal care & childcare. Let moms take paid leave for at least 3 months. Offer the same leave to my partner (male, female, whatever). Make all the well baby visits during the first 5 years free. Offer post-natal mental health care for moms
— Irrationally Exuberant Oatmeal Cookie (@coldwaromatic) December 14, 2017
Paul Ryan, who is paying for all these extra babies? Women can't get equal pay and health insurance is a joke, so who is paying for the babies?
— Savage Sagittarius (@BlkGrlsDontDate) December 14, 2017
It’s clearly because we’re doing an exemplary job of taking care of our existing children. It’s great to see that @SpeakerRyan supporting increased child care, health care, education, housing, & food vouchers for those children already living in the US. #OhWaitHeIsnt
— Colleen McIntyre (@colleenmac37_) December 14, 2017
Oh sure we'll all get right on that once you allow for paid maternity and paternity leave and maybe more help with daycare expenses. https://t.co/ajjklmJo5L
— imTired thatisall (@imisspoundsigns) December 14, 2017