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The Pandemic Baby Bust

The economic uncertainty of the pandemic has added to already declining birth rates in a troubling sign for the future of the American economy.
March 17, 2021, 7am PDT | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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Writing in the New York Times, Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine assess their earlier prediction that the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a drastic decline in U.S. births which, coupled with an already declining birth rate, will cause "consequential changes to our economy and society in the years to come."

The authors predicted a dip of roughly 8% last year, using an analysis "based largely on the fact that economic factors affect people’s decisions about whether and when to have a baby" as well as demographic history from the 1918 flu pandemic. Although birth data affected by the COVID-19 pandemic won't be available for several more months, recent surveys indicate that "couples were intentionally putting their pregnancy plans on hold and having sex less often." Provisional data for January 2021 births (the first that would have been affected by lockdown measures) from Florida and California show a 7.2% and 10.5% decline, respectively.

It is impossible to anticipate all the possible social and psychological effects of this baby bust, but according to Kearney and Levine, "the real societal challenge of a Covid baby bust will be a smaller work force, which portends lower economic productivity and fewer workers to contribute to the tax base." With employment rates and productivity falling alongside birth rates, the authors argue, "turning things around will require a significant investment of public resources to improve our country’s economic competitiveness."

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Published on Thursday, March 4, 2021 in The New York Times
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