Speed Reading — Children and Pets - Level 4 — 200 wpm

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Birth rates in many countries are falling to alarmingly low levels. Politicians in Japan and South Korea are pondering questions about the future economic viability of their countries. A recent conference in Italy has addressed the country's looming demographic crisis. Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. The government is warning of considerable strains on pensions and the welfare system as Italy's population rapidly ages. The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has warned that having children is becoming more unaffordable for many couples. He lamented that starting a family in Italy is now a "titanic effort" that only the rich and wealthy can afford.

Pope Francis encouraged Italians to have more children, even amid rising prices. He cautioned young couples for making "selfish, egotistical" choices that are resulting in record low birth rates. He said this is threatening Italy's economic future. He called the situation a "demographic winter". Italy saw a record low number of births last year of 392,000, which combined with an elevated number of deaths – 713,000. The Pope urged couples to have babies instead of pets. He rebuked a woman who asked him to bless her "baby," which was actually a dog. The BBC wrote that Italy is often dubbed "the country of empty cribs". It quoted Elon Musk as tweeting that: "Italy is disappearing."

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