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Growing Up Crowded

- Abstract

BEFORE the late 1940′s, the annual number of live births in the United States was one of our most stable statistics. For 21 of the 37 years from 1909 through 1945, that number was between 2.75 and 3 million. During the depression decade of 1931-40, which produced the entrants to maturity of the years soon after World War II, the number of live births ranged from 2.3 million to 2.56 million. Then, in 1946, there were 3.4 million births; the next year the number jumped further, to 3.8 million, and in 1953 it crossed the 4-million mark. School enrollment, which in the period 1920-50 had risen only from 23 million to 28 million, jumped to 36 million in 1956 and 44 million in 1962.

Eventually, inexorably, these huge “cohorts” moved into the job market. At the peak period of arms production in World War II, employment in America had topped out at 54 million; at war’s end Henry Wallace, the McGovern of his day, was calling for an impossible target of 60 million jobs. Yet by early 1975, an American economy that was supplying 84 million jobs (one million more than two years before) saw unemployment rise to the frightening level of 9 per cent and faced the need to generate 2 million new jobs every year to keep the unemployment rate from rising even higher.

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