NEWSWIRE: 2/8/21 

  • We’re getting our first look at U.S. birth rates during the pandemic, and it’s not promising. Monthly data from December 2020 for five states, including California and Florida, show that births fell by more than 50,000 compared to a year earlier. (Bloomberg)

Trendspotting: U.S. Births Now in Free Fall  - Feb8 1.

    • Crudely extrapolated out to all fifty states (these five represent about 25% of the national population), the missing 50K births imply roughly 200K fewer births nationally. This would represent a 5.3% decline in total births in 2020
    • This fall is truly remarkable since the pandemic lockdown should not be impacting live births until late December, when 2020 was almost over. The WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, and California issued its stay-at-home order on March 19. Count forward 9 months and 5 five days, the average length of gestation, gets you to the last two weeks of December at best.
    • To be sure, births along with birth rates have generally been falling since 2007. From 2007 to 2019, the U.S. total fertility rate (TFR) fell by -1.5% yearly CAGR. In 2018, the number of births fell YoY by -1.7%. In 2019, they fell by -1.2%. But how do we get all the way to minus 5% or thereabouts in 2020?
    • Well, one way would be to assume that births throughout most of 2020 were going down more than usual--say, around -3%. And then we might assume a huge hit with the pandemic--say, something close to -20% in December. It's a combination that would get us close to -5%.
    • As the monthly data from California indicate, that may be just what happened.

Trendspotting: U.S. Births Now in Free Fall  - Feb8 2.

    • Note that in the Golden State monthly births YoY were down an average of -7.5% from July to November, before the bottom dropped out in December when births dropped by -19.1%. Admittedly, CA has recently become a demographically challenged state, with rising net rates of emigration. It undoubtedly undershoots the national trend in births and population growth. But I suspect that other states show the same relative pattern across the year: a greater-than-usual birth decline through most of the year and then a very large drop once the pandemic's impact is registered.
    • Official national numbers, unfortunately, won't be available for all of 2020 until late summer. The best we can do here is look at the CDC/NCHS "Natality Dashboard" which currently takes us through Q2 of 2020. It shows the general U.S. fertility rate slowing by -5.6% YoY through Q2. That's actually a bigger drop than the equivalent Q2 decline in California alone (-4.7% YoY).
    • Yes, all these numbers--both from the Census and the states--are still provisional. They will be revised. But there's not much doubt about where they're pointing. Once we get to see the birth numbers for the first two or three quarters of 2021, when the pandemic's effects are fully in place, IMO it's likely to point to a national YoY birth decline on the order of -10% or larger. That would take the U.S. TFR all the way down to the 1.45-1.55 range, which was slightly below the average for Europe in 2018.
    • As I pointed out in my earlier report, such a decline would erase America's reputation for exceptional fertility. US policymakers may find themselves, much sooner than anticipated, trying to design "pronatal" policies in the manner of Poland, Hungary, or Russia (whose TFRs in 2018 were 1.46, 1.55, and 1.57, respectively, according to the World Bank). Already we see Republican senators like Mitt Romney and the team of Marco Rubio and Mike Lee shifting into high gear on this front.