Birth Rate Plunges During Recession

Birth rates hit an historic low in America last year. This small number of newborns will hit the workforce in 20 years, just as the last baby boomer reaches full retirement age. The pension math is not pretty.

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The youngest baby boomers will begin turning 50 next year, a noteworthy milestone in the graying of America. But the more important data point may be this: Last year, the birth rate in America fell to the lowest level in recorded history.

These may be separate developments but they are part of the same ominous story. As our largest generation moves toward full-on retirement we are minting what promises to be our smallest generation, a group that from the very beginning of its working years will face the impossible task of supporting millions of entitled old fogeys. Something will have to give.

The U.S. birth rate slid by 8% in recent years, reaching 63.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2011, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. That is half the peak birth rate recorded in 1957, which was smack in the middle of the baby boom. This is the lowest rate since at least 1920, the earliest year for which there are reliable numbers.

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The biggest declines were among foreign-born women, where the fertility rate plummeted by 14%. Mexican immigrant women showed the steepest drop: 23%.

These declines are troublesome on a number of fronts. First, a declining birth rate poses all sorts of problems for what’s left of our social safety net. In 20 years, every last one of 78 million boomers will have reached full retirement age just as today’s historically low number of newborns is entering the workforce. Without big changes Social Security, which is a pay-as-you-go system, will be overwhelmed. Public and private pension systems, which are severely underfunded, may find it difficult to keep their promises as well. This is not new news. But the recent steep drop-off in birth rates compounds the problem.

Second, for many years it was widely assumed that falling birth rates among American women would be largely offset by births to the immigrant population. This would add enough workers to the tax rolls in future years to mitigate our demographic issues. Yet the steepest declines have been precisely among these immigrant populations.

Declining births are yet another way the Great Recession is leaving a lasting mark. In an earlier report, Pew linked falling fertility rates to economic distress. Just after the top of the last economic cycle, American births hit 4.3 million in 2007. That number has been sliding ever since and hit 3.95 million in 2011, Pew says.

(MORE: How to Avoid the Fiscal Cliff)

This trend is also evident in previous recessions and was perhaps most pronounced during the Great Depression. So there is reason to believe that birth rates will rebound with the economy. From the Pew report:

“Experts suggest that much of the fertility decline that occurs during an economic decline is postponement of childbearing and does not represent a decision to have fewer children. In other words, people put off having children during the economic downturn, and then catch up on fertility once economic conditions improve.”

So maybe all the little future taxpayers we need to support a giant geezer population down the road will materialize yet. But I wouldn’t count on it. If you are one of those young boomers, it’s too late to do anything about the birth rate but you still have time to do something about your retirement.

13 comments
JulieLZimdars
JulieLZimdars

@WESTconsinCU @TIMEBusiness 10K/day turn 65 in this country! Boomers have to plan far ahead for the potential of a Long Term Care need.

jecl
jecl

1st of all the world does not need more people it needs less.  Capitalism will fail but will be replaced by a sustainable economic system in the future whatever that is.  2nd is the fact this is about whites being majority population, as global warming continues expect Mexicans and Central Americans to continue to come north as their land becomes less sustainable.  Immigration will take the place of the birth rate.  Maybe all the white people will end up in Canada or we will annex them or something.

RobertABoohee
RobertABoohee

This is a good thing. Now if we can just get the fundamentalists religious types to do the same maybe we could get a handle on the problem of overbreeding which leads to over population. Getting rid of the birther tax credit would also be a great thing.

jkenr
jkenr

Maybe if it didn't cost 3K people would be having more kids (yes I have insurance through my employer and this is what I am expected to pay out of pocket...750 deductible plus 10% of everything)

ciocc1947
ciocc1947

Come to Denver, a sanctuary city, where the anchor parade is alive with no sign of stopping.

BillyB
BillyB

So Mexicans go from having 5 kids to 4. What's the difference? Yawn. Next talking point. We all know soon there will be no white folks left, since they are the only responsible ones (both here and in Europe) and have kids they can afford, which is below replacement level.

chrisbock.cb
chrisbock.cb

Yet tax and spend librals want to increase and broaden the social "safety net".  When will they realize that their current path is unsustainable?

ChrisHarlos
ChrisHarlos

The ultimate "consumer" confidence poll.  For most working Americans, this country is a nightmare.  And that couldn't please our ruling elites more.  The foreseeable future:  declining standards of living for 90% of us; austerity economics; endless wars of aggression to advance the commercial interests of a narrow sector of elites; ramped up destruction of our environment by fossil fuel firms heel bent on turning the US into a Petro-State.  

Why would folks bring a baby into this dismal society?

TracyJohnson
TracyJohnson

@BillyB How long until people quit posting comments as if they were bored little db's?  If bored with it, don't post.

Danceroflife
Danceroflife

@BillyB "We all know soon there will be no white folks left, since they are the only responsible ones (both here and in Europe) and have kids they can afford, which is below replacement level."

As I understand it, the reason there are fewer white babies born is two-fold:  1) the fertility rate among white men has significantly declined, even though this population group that purchases  Viagra, and 2) more and more white women are choosing to mate with Black/AA, Asian and Hispanic men which explains the increase in half-white( bi-racial) children who are counted as minorities.  

Perhaps science will discover the reason for the rapid decrease in white male fertility rates and perhaps not.

BillyB
BillyB

Who are these ruling elites you speak of?  Why are you blaming some imaginary "big brother"?  Take ownership and responsibility for you own life and stop blaming others for the circumstances around you.

ChrisHarlos
ChrisHarlos

@BillyB If accepting "personal responsibility" means putting your head up your ass, no thanks. Billy Bob, the US is no democracy, representative or otherwise.  It is an oligarchy (look it up. Read Aristotle's "Politics".) Multi-millionaires, billionaires, and powerful corporations run the political process, write the laws, and determine which get enforced. Poor dopes like you have to be personally responsible, up to a point.  Cross the line and you get hard time in the biggest Prison State on the planet.

Net: the working people of this country are not responsible for the shithole state it is in. Your denial is abetting the rich pricks with their foot on your neck.  Wake up and rebel, man. Throw away the brainwash!