Letters to the Editor

Readers write about the idea of mandatory civic service, and how poverty is connected to a country's population growth.

Civic work should be voluntary, not mandatory

Regarding the Jan. 26 Opinion piece, "Obama can instill civic responsibility – through a mandatory Youth Corps": The idea of a Youth Corps sounds great, except for one really big catch – why does it have to be mandatory? That goes against the single most inviolable principle in America: no involuntary servitude.

As proposed, the program looks very attractive – free room and board, healthcare, travel, minimum wage, free training, and two years of free college. Why burden this great idea with involuntary servitude?

In addition, with unemployment so high and millions of fully trained adults with families to feed standing ready to rebuild highways or aid in healthcare, construction, or education, why not just put them to work voluntarily and have the young people serve as their interns in exchange for the minimum wage, training, and college tuition? And if some young people have the capacity to pursue more lucrative options in the private sector and can find work or schooling that is preferable to them, wouldn't that allow resources to flow naturally toward each person's talents and interests? Isn't allowing that fundamental freedom ultimately in the best interest of all?

The Youth Corps is a great idea. It would fly on its own merits. There is no need to make it compulsory, and many good reasons why it should not be.

Steve Greenfield
New Paltz, N.Y.

Poverty leads to population growth

In regard to the Jan. 26 commentary, "Can Obama's family-planning policies help the economy?": The headline asks an important question. Unfortunately, the article does little to answer it.

Indeed, the only mention it contains of the economic consequences of rapid population growth is the fact that 1 billion people live in poverty. The issues are much more strongly linked than that.

It's no coincidence that the poorest countries on earth are those with the highest rates of population growth. Among the top 50 countries in terms of gross domestic product per capita, only one has a fertility rate higher than 2.5 (Equatorial Guinea, due to oil production that offers huge benefits to a select few).

When families have more children than they can support, not all those children can attend school. Usually the girls are kept home, snuffing out their chances of participating in the formal employment sector as adults and facilitating early marriage and high fertility, thus continuing the cycle of poverty. And when young populations dominate, they demand more social infrastructure investments (immunizations, schools, new jobs) from national governments than do populations dominated by working-age adults.

Drastically reducing fertility in poor countries creates a "demographic bonus," whereby people who work and support the economy outnumber those who are dependent and must be supported (i.e., children and the elderly).

President Obama's action to rescind the "Global Gag Rule" is a critical first step in improving the quality of life for people around the world. The next step is a commitment to making a real investment in international family planning by urging Congress to provide $1 billion to these programs when he submits his budget proposal. A billion dollars for family planning will help the poorest people in the world buy security, stability, and survival.

Marian Starkey

Communications manager, Population Connection

Washington, D.C.

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