‘Baby Bust’ Leads To Fewer Births In County

A chart detailing the number of births from 2008 to 2019 in Chautauqua County. The number of babies born between 2009 and 2018 decreased by 288. Submitted photo

Two hundred and eighty-eight fewer babies were born in Chautauqua County between 2009 and 2018.

Is it because of a “baby bust” or out-migration as New York leads the nation in population loss?

Either way, Breeanne Agett, county Health & Human Services Department epidemiology manager, told The Post-Journal that in 2009 there were 1,491 births in the county. In 2018, there were only 1,203 newborn babies.

“Yes, we are noticing a decrease in the number of babies born over the past few years,” Agett said.

If the decrease in population is because of a “baby bust,” Chautauqua County is not alone. The American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., group that researches government, politics, economics and social welfare, published a report in December 2018 detailing that birth rates in America are declining, leading to one of the lowest rates of population growth on record, soon to become the lowest ever. The situation is being observed across geographic areas and ethnic groups in the United States, including immigrant women and previously high-fertility states such as Utah and Hawaii. According to the report, the U.S. isn’t alone in having fewer births with many industrialized nations also experiencing the same occurrence.

According to Governing, a national monthly magazine edited and published in Washington, D.C., that focuses on state and local government in the United States, when unemployment spikes during severe economic downturns, birth rates usually drop. That’s been true for the past decade, thanks to the Great Recession and its aftermath. However, the difference this time around following an economic downturn, as the economy eventually improved birth rates aren’t increasing, but are going down.

According to a report by Governing in July 2017, federal estimates find that the fertility rate fell further in 2016 to 62 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, a historic low. In fact, four million fewer babies were born between 2008 and 2016 than would have been born had the rate continued at pre-recession levels.

Over the long term, the baby bust could carry profound consequences for public policy if fertility rates don’t rebound. Classrooms could see more empty seats, smaller workforces would likely reduce tax revenues and demands for social services could shift.

What impact a baby bust will have on social services in Chautauqua County is yet to be determined, Agett said.

“There are many factors that influence our social services system, beyond the number of children born. We do not know what challenges are down the road and how those challenges may influence our economy and the number of people needing assistance,” she said. “If all external factors remain the same, and we were to make a prediction solely using birth counts, we might conclude that the burden on the social services system (temporary assistance, child welfare, child support, etc.) should decline over the next several years. About 60 percent of the families welcoming babies into our county receive health benefits through Medicaid or Medicaid managed care. This figure is pretty consistent across the years we looked at (2008-2018).”

One of the first effects of a fertility decline will be a drop in elementary school enrollment. Jessie Joy, Jamestown Public Schools chief information officer, said kindergarten enrollment has declined about 90 students during the last 20 years. However, she doesn’t know if it’s attributed to a baby bust or a decline in the city’s population. So if there are fewer children enrolled in elementary schools, how will this impact the district?

“Any significant decline in student enrollment over time may lead to a reduction in teaching staff, as we may need fewer classrooms for the number of students served,” she said. “This doesn’t typically happen in a single year, and is typically a gradual adjustment over a number of years. We annually review our student enrollment and make staffing recommendations as part of the budget development process. Sometimes we see an increase in one grade level and a decrease in another, and we may instead need to reassign staff to a different grade level or school in order to maintain reasonable class sizes.”

Whether it’s a baby bust or out-migration — according to the U.S. Census Bureau New York state lost 48,510 residents between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018– County Executive George Borrello said, either way, county officials have to focus on marketing the positive aspects of Chautauqua County to retain current residents and possibly attract new ones. One way of doing that is to focus on workforce development.

“To retain our kids we here to encourage them to go into careers that have good paying jobs that are already in the county,” he said. “If they do that most likely they will stay here and raise a family. It’s a great place to raise a family.”

One way county officials are trying to attract new residents is by creating a recruitment package that will be given to county employers that will highlight the county’s best attributes.

“Employers then can tell people why this is a wonderful place to live,” he said. “Part of that is our quality schools and outdoor activities that are appealing to young families. Twenty to thirty year olds like the metropolitan lifestyle, but it’s not great for raising a family. We need to convince them to move back for good schools and a nice lifestyle.”