The real problem with Social Security is painfully obvious — with the emphasis on the pain.
What’s so obvious is that the system is running out of money for one simple reason: It was created for a world where people had a lot of children who grew up and paid into the system. That world is gone.
Now we live in a world where people have very few children, and where 1.3 million children are aborted every year. Our population would be at or below zero replacement level if immigration weren’t propping us up.
This truth is painful because the only real solution for Social Security is the most difficult one: a massive lifestyle change.
When the Depression-era system was founded, dozens of workers paid in for every one beneficiary. In 1950, there were 16 workers to support every beneficiary. That figure is down to 3.3 workers today. It will soon be as few as two.
The Social Security debate isn’t just a national debate. Similar systems around the world are facing the consequences of the contraceptive revolution. For decades, the decision to have very few children seemed like a great idea. Now, from Russia to Japan, it’s beginning to look like it was economic suicide.
The Catholic Church is in a unique position to be a catalyst for change in this regard. Its teachings against contraception and abortion remain the best way to be not just morally sound, but economically strong.
There are two groups with whom the Church’s success or failure will determine how severe our own economic crisis might be in the long run.
Suburban Catholic Natalists. David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times about the “natalist” movement, his name for those who are defying the national trend against having children.
“They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal identity is defined by parenthood. They are more spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their homes than in any other sphere of life, having concluded that parenthood is the most enriching and elevating thing they can do. Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling.”
He tracks their growth by looking at the swelling suburbs. He tracks their beliefs by showing the sharp “fertility inequalities” between voters who vote to protect marriage and the unborn in the “red” counties and those who don’t in the “blue” counties.
Catholics have an opportunity — in fact, a responsibility — to grow and deepen this “natalist” movement. We can do it best by promoting the family — the joys of family life and the virtues of family sacrifice. But we also need to promote the Church’s teaching on family issues.
Already, flourishing apostolates in American are doing both: groups you’ve read about in the Register, like Familia, One More Soul and many others. These need to grow, and more such groups need to sprout. We have to disprove the final sentence in Brooks’ column: “People who have enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a culture war.”
Immigrant Values. As it turns out, in an indirect way, the Catholic Church is the key thing that has preserved America from hitting the disaster point already.
The influx of workers from Mexico — with their Catholic heritage — has kept our workforce strong enough to support our retirees. These new immigrants bring values of hard work and larger families, two vital components for our economy.
Unfortunately, though, these immigrants are falling through the cracks, spiritually. American Catholic churches appear foreign to their religious sensibilities. There are very few organized efforts to reach them.
Like Irish and Italian immigrants before them, they seem destined to become indistinguishable from their neighbors, and TV, movies and other modern homogenizing influences greatly speed up the process. Already, Hispanic politicians are rushing to distance themselves from their pro-family heritage. Ironically, by becoming more liberal, they are doing exactly what the anti-immigration right wants them to do — change utterly in order to blend in.
What can the Church do in the face of this? The parishes with the best records of reaching the new immigrants pack them in with popular devotions like the rosary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Divine Mercy, the Stations of the Cross and enthusiastic signs of affection for the Eucharist.
More parishes should follow suit. To do so would strengthen the nation economically. More importantly, it would make us immeasurably stronger spiritually.
- March 20-26, 2005