The baby boom that usually follows a recession still hasn’t happened in Minnesota.
The state’s birthrate continues to decline and the overall number of births has not recovered to its prerecession peak, according to a new report from the Minnesota State Demographic Center.
“Typically after a recession we expect a rebound in births, because everyone will decide that they’re feeling economically secure at about the same time,” said Susan Brower, the state demographer. “We haven’t seen that yet.”
Economists watch childbirth numbers because lower fertility — absent increased immigration — means fewer workers for companies to hire and a smaller tax base to pay for care for the elderly. A boom in childbirths would help the economy by prompting more consumer spending and forcing families to buy more new homes.
A five-year dearth of babies, also reflected in national numbers released this past week, is likely the result of continued economic uncertainty and cultural assimilation by minority groups, which saw their fertility rates fall surprisingly fast in the past four years.
Fertility rates for Latina women, for instance, dropped from about 3.5 children per mother in 2009 to under 2.5 in 2012. Black fertility rates are also dropping, though not as dramatically.
The overall number of births in 2013 rose to 69,183, an increase of 500 babies over 2012. That was nearly 4,500 fewer births than in 2007.
The birthrate fell slightly to 12.8 babies per 1,000 Minnesotans in 2013, extending a long-term trend of gradual decline. That compares with 15.5 babies per 1,000 in 1990 and 25.1 per 1,000 in 1950. There are a number of explanations for the decline.
In the Latino community, the rising cost of living combined with increased education levels have reduced the number of babies women are ready to have, said Armando Camacho, CEO of Opportunity Partners and former president of the Neighborhood House.
“As people get more acclimated here to the United States, the birthrates do tend to go down and people have children that are more in line with their economic reality,” Camacho said. “The cost of raising children is very expensive.”
A growing portion of women of color at childbearing age — particularly Latinos — are born in the U.S., and thus are more likely to put off having children longer, said Brower, the state demographer.
“There’s probably economic factors going on there, but the underlying current is that longer-term trend of who makes up that group of mothers,” she said.
The total number of children a black mother in Minnesota is likely to have in her lifetime declined from 3.6 in 2007 to 2.9 in 2012, according to data compiled by the State Demographic Center. Asian fertility rates, while still higher than white fertility rates, have also fallen in recent years.
White birthrates remain flat
Unlike minority birthrates, the numbers of babies born to white mothers wasn’t dramatically affected by the recession.
“Whites are probably generally more affluent and more shielded from the recession,” said Peter Ferderer, an economist at Macalester College.
The white fertility rate rose slightly in the early 2000s and fell slightly in the recession, but hasn’t moved a great deal in the past decade and remains the lowest of all races or ethnicities in the state. The number of white births is now below 2.0 per mother. “We think of 2.1 as the break even,” Ferderer said.
As a result of these patterns, the women having children in the state are increasingly diverse, with 1 in 6 babies in Minnesota in 2012 born to a foreign-born mother. Mexico and Somalia are the most common countries of origin for immigrant mothers.
Since 1990, the number of births has increased for all races and ethnicities except non-Hispanic whites. Virtually all of the increase in total births since then is due to births by mothers of color.
Economists view the trend in birthrates as a reason for urgency in closing the educational achievement gap between whites and minorities. Minnesota’s economy is fueled by the quality of its workforce, and the workforce is quickly becoming more diverse as white baby boomers retire and increasing numbers of young blacks and Latinos are represented.
And if the birthrate keeps falling for all Minnesotans, that could pose economic challenges, as companies struggle to find workers.
“Long term, if we don’t see the growth in our labor force that we expect,” Brower said, “that is a problem potentially for the growth of our economy.”