It’s the demography stupid! (At least partly…)

Mark Steyn pithily sums up a little-discussed truism undergirding many social welfare programs:

This is why I’m opposed to universal social programs – because they were set up on the basis of mid-20th century birth rates.

Defined benefit plans and the pending Social Security crisis seem to prove the point, no? He also links to this story about Europe, the laboratory of socialism:

There are currently more elderly people than children living in the EU, as Europe’s young population has decreased by 21 percent – or 23 million — in 25 years, 10 percent of which in the last ten years alone…
Italy has the least young people (14.2%) and one out of every five Italians is more than 65 years old… However, the decrease in numbers has been greatest in Spain, where the young population has diminished by 44% in the 1990 to 2005 period…
The decrease has been most significant in new member state Bulgaria, which has lost almost 8% of its population (7.94%) in the last ten years…
On top of that, the number of births across the EU has been decreasing and in some member states, the birth rate is almost two times lower than in the US (2.09 children per family in 2006).

I think the U.S. is holding its own, but the amount of workers it takes to support those not working (elderly, infirm, etc.)–regardless of the population breakdown–is declining. In the acute case of Social Security, demographic shifts are only partially to blame. We also have to “deal” with longer lifespans, which means longer retirements and more benefits paid out. That’s why we’re down to 3 workers per 1 SS recipient (versus 11 to 1 in the 1930s). That’s why something has to change. Don’t hold your breath for Washington to solve this one any time soon, though.

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