Last week’s announcement from the National Center for Health Statistics that the number of births in the U.S. fell for the sixth year in a row has been recognized by a number of commentators of varying political stripes as a clear sign that young adults are continuing to struggle in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
For example, Brookings Institute demographer William Frey, in acknowledging to New York Times reporter Tamar Lewin that he had hoped to see an increase in nationwide births in the NCHS report for 2013, commented:
On just about every demographic indicator involving young adults, whether it’s marriage, buying a home, or delaying childbearing, it’s all been on hold since the beginning of the recession. . . . I think it’ll come back up, and each time new numbers are coming out, I think maybe this will be the moment.
Another eminent demographer, Joel Kotkin, pointed out in his recent book The New Class Conflict that, in 2010, there were 27 million more Americans than there had been in 2000, but fewer births. In Kotkin’s assessment, quoted by George Will in his syndicated column this past weekend (see the link below), this is a reflection of the “end of intergenerational optimism.”
Fortunately, not all states were equally pessimistic as of last year. While in the U.S. as a whole the number of births in 2013 (according to the NCHS’s first estimate) was still lower than the number in 2000 by roughly 101,000, or 2.5%, births were up in nearly half the states. And in the 21 states that have had Right to Work laws on the books ever since 2000, births in the aggregate were up last year by nearly 42,000, or 2.7%, compared to 2000. By comparison, births in the 26 states that lacked Right to Work laws for the whole period fell by 5.5%.
The negative correlation between forced-unionism status and “intergenerational optimism” is robust. Of the 10 states that saw declines in the number of births of more than 8% from 2000 to 2013, eight (Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont) lacked Right to Work protections for the whole time, one (Michigan) adopted a Right to Work that took effect only in 2013, and just one (Mississippi) had a Right to Work law for the whole time.
Moreover, while total births in both Right to Work states and forced-unionism states fell for several years starting in 2008 as a consequence of the severe economic downtown, last year births in Right to Work states were up by 0.7%, even as births fell by another 0.3% in forced-unionism states.