The third problem is one the US has been struggling with for over a century: significant decade-to-decade fluctuations in the number of births per year.
Births per year began dropping in the 1920s, bottomed out at just under 2.5 million/year during the Depression, and then exploded between 1945 to 1962 in the famous baby boom. The period between 1960 and 1970 saw a sharp decline in the birth rate, from 25.3 births per thousand people in 1957 to 14.9 in 1973, and it has trended gradually downwards ever since, with occasional minor fluctuations.
However, because of the baby boom and the massive increase in new potential parents, there has been a noticeable oscillation in actual births per year due to those “minor” fluctuations in the birth rate over the last 30 years. In the process of all of this, our schools and communities were whipsawed by rapid, destructive fluctuations in student populations, as schools oscillated from overcrowding and teacher shortages at the peaks of the booms, down to empty classrooms and teacher surpluses during the busts, and back again. Then as each cohort entered the work force, we had to cope with large variations in the number of entry-level positions that the economy needed to generate, causing sizable fluctuations in youth unemployment.
The post-war baby boom generation, in particular, has stressed and will continue to stress our society in many ways, as has the shortage of workers in the generation that followed it. The boomer generation strained our schools and universities and dragged the political center of gravity towards itself in disruptive ways when the boomers were young. They have continued to dominate political life in the US ever since, dragging the body politic with them as they aged, decade by decade, and often demanding and getting a disproportionate share of the nation’s resources. Their insistence on ever more generous funding for retirement and medical care and ever-lighter taxes has created a perilously large future burden for the smaller generations born after them. And they are now beginning to retire in such large numbers that they are creating large and hard-to-fill shortages in many skill categories in the economy.
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