Birth rates tumble — but not here

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Americaís baby bust isnít over. The nationís birth rates last year reached record lows for women in their teens and 20s, a new government report shows, leading to the fewest babies in 32 years.

The provisional report, released Wednesday and based on more than 99 percent of U.S. birth records, found 3.788 million births last year. It was the fourth year the number of births has fallen, the lowest since 1986 and a surprise to some experts given the improving economy.

The fertility rate of 1.7 births per U.S. woman also fell 2 percent, meaning the current generation isnít making enough babies to replace itself.

Whether more U.S. women are postponing motherhood or forgoing it entirely isnít yet clear.

If trends continue, experts said, the U.S. can expect labor shortages including in elder care, when aging baby boomers need the most support.

ďI keep expecting to see the birth rates go up and then they donít,Ē said demographer Kenneth M. Johnson of University of New Hampshireís Carsey School of Public Policy.

He estimates 5.7 million babies would have been born in the past decade if fertility rates hadnít fallen from pre-recession levels.

ďThatís a lot of empty kindergarten rooms,Ē said Johnson, who wasnít involved in the report.

Other experts are not concerned, predicting todayís young women will catch up with childbearing later in their lives. The only two groups with slightly higher birth rates in 2018 were women in their late 30s and those in their early 40s.

ďOur fertility rates are still quite high for a wealthy nation,Ē said Caroline Sten Hartnett, a demographer at the University of South Carolina.

American women are starting families sooner than most other developed nations, according to other research. Other countries are seeing similar declines in birth rates.

Young Americans still want to have children, but they donít feel stable enough to have them yet, said Karen Benjamin Guzzo, who studies families at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

While Kootenai County isnít exactly baby boom country, itís not a bust, either. According to Kim Anderson of Kootenai Health, the birth rate at the regionís largest hospital remains in the slightly rising and mostly consistent range. Hereís a list of the number of births at KH over the past decade:

2018: 1,815

2017: 1,830

2016: 1,704

2015: 1,766

2014: 1,693

2013: 1,615

2012: 1,635

2011: 1,396

2010: 1,657

2009: 1,686

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