When the economy soured late in 2007, Nevada families decided to cut back on spending. Out went the trip to Hawaii. Out went the Friday night outing to the steakhouse. And out went the baby.
Yes, the baby.
Statistics show that couples in Nevada are not having as many babies as they did before the state sank into its worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
According to the state Bureau of Health Statistics, Planning & Emergency Response, the number of babies born in Nevada has dropped every month this year in comparison with the same month in 2007 and 2008.
The number of births in May, the latest month a count is available, was 2,974, down from 3,389 in May 2007 and 3,225 in May 2008. That is a 12.2 percent decline in two years.
The Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center has seen an
8 percent decrease in births over the past two years, according to spokeswoman Cheri Glockner.
She said that by Nov. 30, 2007, 1,028 babies had been delivered, and by the same time last year, 922 babies were born there. This year, only 856 babies were delivered at Carson Regional Medical Center by Nov. 30.
"Historically, December is an average month for us, so we don't expect those statistics to change," Glockner said. "This is a trend we're seeing."
In Lampe Park in Gardnerville where a handful of children were playing on a recent afternoon, their parents all said they cannot afford to have more children because the recession has cut their income and the ability of their employers to offer health insurance.
Dawn DuCotey, 28, said she can barely afford the $300-plus per month that it costs to keep her 3-year-old daughter, Ocean, in day care while she is working.
She receives health insurance for herself, but not for her daughter or any other children she might have.
"I cannot afford to have another child now," said DuCotey, who is getting a divorce.
Lynn Corey, 23, echoed her comments, as she sat with her 2-year-old daughter at a picnic table.
"I am definitely feeling the effects of the economy," said Corey, a single mother without health insurance. "I could not have another child now. Employers cannot afford to pay their employees' health insurance, let alone give it to their families."
Tami Gates, director of the Hill and Dale Child Development Center in Las Vegas, notices the lack of infants and children every day.
Only four of the center's nine slots for babies are filled. Total enrollment is about half of capacity, the lowest it has been in the 10 years she has been there.
"I feel if we are not full, then nobody is full," she said. "I have heard a lot of child care centers have closed. It could be a population decline, a declining birth rate, the economy."
Parents of some children have told her they cannot afford full-time day care because their jobs have been cut back. Others have moved back to their home states because of a lack of jobs in Las Vegas, she said.
Rick Plummer, a spokesman for University Medical Center, said the drop in births might be due more to a statewide population decline. The number of births at the public hospital is about 5,000 a year, down 6 percent from two years ago.
State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle won't have information on Nevada's 2009 population before January. But he said in the summer that he doesn't think the state's population has declined, although growth might be minimal. The latest figures, for July 2008, showed the state has 2.738 million residents.
Nevada, with the second highest unemployment rate in the country, isn't alone with a drop in births. The birth rate also is declining nationally, although not as steeply as here.
The number of U.S. births hit a record high of 4.247 million in 2007, but then dropped by 68,000 in 2008, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C., said that in every state for which he has seen records, the number of births has fallen this year compared with 2008.
"Nevada has had a really big drop," Haub said. "People have lost confidence about the future. I don't think we noticed before how it affected the birth rate. There is only one thing that could have caused it, and that is the recession."
This isn't the first time births have dropped because of a poor economy.
During the 1930s, the time of the Depression, the nation's population grew by only 9 million, by far the lowest of any decade in the 20th century. Growth that decade was about half of what was seen in the 1920s.
Hardcastle said it was not just the bad economy but also illness that contributed to the low birth rate during the Depression.
Until the recent drop, the birth rate had been climbing in the United States, reaching an average of 2.1 births per woman, the highest rate among industrial counties, Haub said.