As it happens, I discussed the challenges facing the Social Security and Medicare trust funds in Wednesday’s class. On the same day, the new House Speaker, Mr. Michael Johnson, offered an implicit solution.from Weekly newspaper:
“Think about the impact on the economy [of Roe v. Wade],” he said. “We’re all trying to maintain the basics of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and all the rest. “
“If we had all these able-bodied workers in our economy, we wouldn’t be turned upside down like this… I’m not going to give in, I won’t. Roe is a gross corruption of American constitutional jurisprudence.”
Beyond the ethically questionable aspects of fostering fiscal solvency schemes, one must also ask whether Johnson’s approach makes sense from a policy perspective. In short, the answer is no.
The argument for this approach is based on (at least) two questionable assumptions: (1) all abortions will result in 100% participation of viable workers in the labor force during working age, (2) criminalizing abortion will significantly Reduce the number of abortions.
From 1973 to 2020, the cumulative number of abortions was 60.8 million; according to data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics, people born in 2004 will reach working age (16 years old) in 2020 Guttmacher Institute (Linear interpolation of data for missing years). The cumulative number in 2004 was 44.4 million. Of course, not everyone born in 1973 will live to be 47 years old in 2020. The survival rate is about 94%; for 16-year-olds in 2020, the rate is about 99%. Dividing the difference equally, the average application of 97% is 44.4 million, resulting in a yield of 43.1 million. For the age group 21-54, 2022 participation rate 81.4%. This means an additional 35.1 million people in the labor force.according to 2023 SSA Trustee Report (Table IV.B.3), the total number of covered workers in 2020 was 174.9 million.
On the other hand, as fertility rates are higher, participation rates will be lower because childcare activities will be higher (unless fully funded child care is provided). In principle, participation rates for men and women would fall equally, but I suspect Mr Johnson would prefer lower participation rates for women (children, kitchen, church! ). Determining how much to reduce requires some additional assumptions. So the increment of 35.1 million covered workers is essentially the cap. Furthermore, had Roe v. Wade not occurred, female participation rates might have been even lower after 1973, further reducing covered employment (for the 25-34 age group, there was a 15 percentage point difference in participation rates between men and women gap), 2022).
Literally, the 35.1 million number, the biggest impact on coverage of OASDI beneficiaries in 2020 is to increase it from 2.7 to 3.2. For context, consider the following coverage trend graph, where the counterfactual is shown as a red +.
source: Chart from Peter Peterson Foundationedited by the author.
Note that in the most optimistic scenario, the ratio of covered workers to beneficiaries improves slightly but does not substantially change the trajectory.
The other assumption (2) is more problematic. Suppose that once abortion becomes illegal, the abortion rate drops to zero. However, estimates put the number of pre-Roe abortions at 200,000 to 1.2 million in the 1950s and 1960s.from Scientific American: “According to one estimate, extrapolating data from North Carolina to the nation, 699,000 illegal abortions occurred in the United States in 1955, and 829,000 illegal abortions were performed in 1967.” In Roe’s first year, 745,000 abortions were performed. This means that, unless extremely intrusive and draconian surveillance and policing measures are implemented, the total number of abortions may not be significantly reduced by criminalization.
While the total number of abortions may not decline, deaths and disabilities resulting from procedures that currently criminalize abortion are likely to increase due to unregulated procedures. On the other hand, wealthy people will be able to travel to obtain abortion procedures. Criminalizing abortion therefore has serious distributional consequences.
All in all, Johnson’s plan to use women as reproductive machines is unlikely to save social security.