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Hispanic birth rate drops due to economic downturn

Updated: December 30, 2011 8:22AM

The number of babies born to Hispanics dropped below 1 million in 2010, a nearly 11 percent drop since 2007 that reflects the tough times.

Fewer people of all backgrounds are having babies because of economic concerns but the sharpest drop is among Hispanics, a booming population that contributes almost a quarter of all U.S. births and half of its population growth.

“Hispanic fertility is dropping like a stone,” says Kenneth Johnson, demographer for the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.

Between 2007 and 2010, Hispanic births in Illinois dropped by 15.4 percent — 44,146 Hispanic births in 2007 to 37,359 in 2010, according to Johnson. Total births in Illinois dropped by 8.6 percent in Illinois during the same period, he said.

“This recession is having a substantial impact on Illinois as it is elsewhere in the country,” said Johnson.

Nationally, Hispanic birth rates tumbled 17.6 percent in three years — from 97.4 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 to 80.3 last year, according to preliminary 2010 data released this month by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Non-Hispanic whites still deliver most U.S. births. Their birth rates fell too, but at a much slower pace — down 3.7 percent to 58.7 per 1,000 women in 2010.

The dramatic decline in births to Hispanics, who still have the highest fertility rates, raises the specter of a long-term drop in the nation’s overall fertility — now higher than that of most other developed nations. It also crystallizes the impact of the economic downturn on Hispanics.

“It’s hard to ignore that Hispanics have been one of the hardest-hit groups,” says Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and author of a recent report on declining birth rates in a down economy.

The birth rate declines among Hispanics mirror their relatively large economic declines, in terms of jobs and wealth, said Livingston.

Unemployment among Hispanics increased 2.0 percentage points from 2007 to 2008, while for blacks it increased 1.8 percentage points, and for whites the increase was 0.9 percentage points, Livingston writes in her report.

Hispanics have also been the biggest losers in terms of wealth since the beginning of the recession, with Hispanic households losing 66 percent of their median wealth from 2005 to 2009. In comparison, black households lost 53 percent of their median wealth and white households lost only 16 percent, she said.

No one knows whether the trend will last.

But Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors controlled immigration, says lower birth rates could benefit some poor families.

“Given the very high rates of poverty among Hispanic children, small families might make it easier for parents to provide for their children,” he says.

Gannett with Sun-Times staff

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