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The National Debt
With the national debt at around $10 trillion and the government running substantial annual budget deficits, the country faces a dire financial picture, some analysts argue. Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has begun running larger annual deficits, even when economic times are good, and most economists agree that the ever-rising debt load restricts the government’s ability to respond to a new crisis. Now the country is entering what could be a long economic slowdown, and the next president will be under pressure to use government fiscal policy – tax cuts and government spending – to bolster the economy, even though those policies will raise the debt further. Besides wrestling with that dilemma, the new president also must face the question of how to pay for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for the large, soon-to-retire baby boom population.
By Marcia Clemmitt

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
As climate change rises on the government’s policy agenda -- and an economic crisis looms -- more and more consumers are trying to change their behavior so they pollute and consume less. To reduce their individual so-called carbon footprints, many are cutting gasoline and home-heating consumption, choosing locally grown food and recycling. While such actions are important in curbing global warming, the extent to which consumers can reduce or reverse broad-scale environmental damage is open to debate. Corporate and government policy must lead the way, many environmental advocates say. And well-intentioned personal actions can have unintended consequences that cancel out positive effects.
By Thomas J. Billitteri

Falling Birthrates
Nations around the globe worry that falling birthrates will cause severe economic problems, including shortages of workers to pay into Social Security system to support ever-growing numbers of retirees. Japan is already facing labor shortages and declining demand for its products. And Europe, the United Kingdom, China and the United States are also worried about the future. Politicians are casting about for solutions, including cutting government spending on the elderly and letting older people work longer. Meanwhile, the nonprofit organization Civic Ventures is matching up people who are of retirement age with new, socially conscious careers. They argue that rather than increasing birthrates, one solution to the coming Social Security crisis is having older people work longer. But critics say that defeats the purpose of retirement and isn’t a realistic solution.
By Sarah Glazer