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Bold steps needed if we are to control our exploding population

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Posted: Friday, September 15, 2006 10:00 pm

Within the next four weeks, U.S. population will hit 300 million people.

America will join China and India as the only three countries in the world with 300 million or more people.

And the instant the number hits 300 million, the nation will begin its march toward 400 million, which it expects to reach in 2040.

That's coming around so soon I might still be teetering around, although I can't imagine that I would want to live in a country so crowded.

And while it is fashionable to say that the U.S. can continue to grow since it has vast areas of undeveloped land, it is equally accurate that the nation's most desirable places to live - Arizona, California and Florida - are filling up fast.

As a result, in 2004 the country averaged 83 persons per square mile versus 70.3 in 1990.

As for California, here's a not-so-fun fact provided by the Californians for Population Stabilization: within the next hour and for every hour of every day for as far ahead as the eye can see, the state's population will grow by 60 people.

That's one person per minute.

Roughly 600,000 people are added annually through immigration or new births to California's already overextended population base of 38 million. That's not sustainable.

Much could be done to alleviate the population growth pressure but, for political correctness reasons, the problem has virtually been taken off the table.

Enter your intrepid opinion page columnist to promote a few ideas that should be the topic for open and honest discussion without regard for politics.

At the top of my list is sensible immigration.

While we continue to wait for that, here are three concepts from my long list of potential changes to promote awareness and reduce the direct and indirect financial incentives toward having larger families.

First, public schools districts need to remove their blinders and introduce mandatory, comprehensive sex education instruction beginning in junior high school.

To dissenting school board members across the country, kindly enter the 21st Century. You may be well meaning but you are dead wrong to try to force an "abstinence only" approach to sex ed.

Although the public-at-large might think that parents are of mixed minds about the value of teaching prudent sex practices to youngsters at an early age, the opposite is true.

Recent research shows that over 90 percent of parents of junior high school or high school students believe that it is "very or somewhat important to have sexuality education as part of the school curriculum."

Californians overwhelmingly believe that sexually active teens should be encouraged, in school-based sexuality education, to practice birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Second, eliminate temporary disabled status for pregnant women, known in California as paid family leave.

Pregnant women are not disabled; they are pregnant. If couples are considering a family, they should factor in whether or not they can afford to raise children.

If they can, fine. They - not you and me - should be paying for their children.

And if prospective parents cannot afford children, then let them wait until they can.

Third, and along those same lines, over the next 10 years abolish any state or federal income tax credits for minor children. Why subsidize what are, in many cases, bad decisions?

Federal tax credits currently at $600 per child will increase to $1,000 per child by 2010.

Additional tax credits include the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as child-care and education tax deductions.

As harsh as these adjustments sound, my objective is not to punish either parents or newly born but to encourage sensible family planning.

Rearing a family is a sacred obligation. The choice to proceed should be well thought out and not in any way dependent on government assistance.

The U.S. is not short of children. What the country does need, however, are more responsible parents.

Joe Guzzardi works for the Lodi Unified School District and has been writing a weekly op-ed column for more than 15 years. His column has appeared in the Lodi News-Sentinel since 2000. E-mail to him at joaquin@lodinet.com.

First published: Saturday, September 16, 2006

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