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Italy considers raise in 'baby bonus' payments to encourage more births

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Italy considers raise in 'baby bonus' payments to encourage more births

Italy’s health minister wants to double child benefit payments to curtail the country’s “catastrophic” birth rate decline. The plan, announced by health minister Beatrice Lorenzin in an interview with La Repubblica last week, came in response to recent national statistics showing fewer babies were born in 2015 than in any other year since 1861, according to Reuters.

“If we carry on as we are and fail to reverse the trend, there will be fewer than 350,000 births a year in 10 years’ time, 40 percent less than in 2010—an apocalypse,” Lorenzin said. “In five years, we have lost more than 66,000 births. … If we link this to the increasing number of old and chronically ill people, we have a picture of a moribund country.”

Lorenzin’s plan would increase and expand incentives for low- and middle-income families to have babies. The current “baby bonus” plan, introduced last year, pays 80 euros per month up to three years for all babies born between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2017. Lorenzin told La Repubblica she wants to double the payment and expand the plan to include all babies younger than 3 and all those born between now and 2020. She also proposed increasing incentives for second and subsequent children. For a second child, average families would be paid 240 euros per month, and the poorest families, those making less than 7,000 euros per year, would receive 400 euros per month.

The plan exempts higher-income families—those making more than 25,000 euros per year—about one-third of Italy’s parents.

Lorenzin’s proposal would add an estimated 2.2 billion euros in public spending over six years. Despite the cost, commentators note the plan likely has the support of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

But some critics argue simply paying people to have children will do little to help the birth rate.

Steven Mosher, president of the Virginia-based Population Research Institute, said Italy has chosen the wrong way to boost its birth rate by “giving government handouts to all those, including illegal immigrants, who have a child within the country’s borders,” according to LifeSiteNews. Instead of a “new government program that will disproportionately benefit immigrants and indigents,” Mosher recommends child tax credits benefiting parents with jobs.

Other critics say increasing services, not money, will provide the most incentive for couples to have more children.

“A ‘baby bonus’ might help families in financial distress, but there is no correlation between giving out money and the birth rate,” said Elizabetta Addis, an economist and demographics expert at the University of Sassari in an interview with The Local. “But there is a correlation between the range of services provided and people having more children.” Addis noted Italy has a short school day and doesn’t provide other helpful benefits for working families.

Other European Union countries provide paid family leave and help with childcare. But overall birth rates among EU countries remain strikingly low. In 2014, EU countries had a fertility rate of 1.58 live births per woman, with the rate in countries like Greece, Spain, and Poland as low as 1.3. Italy has dropped from 2.37 in 1960 to 1.37 in 2014. A rate of 2.1 is considered replacement level for developed countries.

Kiley Crossland Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.

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