WASHINGTON (AP) Did America's moms and dads and potential parents see the meltdown coming before the economists?
Just before the recession's earliest stages, there was a steep decline in the population growth of children less than a year old, newly released census figures show.
Experts have long known that with rising job cuts and home foreclosures, couples often decide the timing isn't right. The mystery here is that the pregnancy falloff actually began months before Wall Street's plunge last September.
The number of babies increased only 0.9 percent between July 2007 and July 2008, a sharp drop from the record-setting 2.7 percent growth the preceding year.
Stephanie Ventura, a demographer for the National Center for Health Statistics, said it's too early to know the reasons, until demographic breakdowns become available later this year.
But she said U.S. couples, who on average have two children, might have instinctively known to slow down amid early signs of economic trouble.
There didn't seem to be outwardly clear signs. During the months when these couples were conceiving babies – or were choosing not to conceive – the stock market was still rising toward its peak above 14,000, unemployment was relatively flat at about 4.5 percent and consumer confidence was reasonably high.
But housing prices were near their peak, a pressure on young families. And some banking failures later identified as early signs of the recession were occurring as early as summer 2007, when gas costs also began to rise.
Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics show a drop in the birth rate during recessions that began in 2001, 1982 and 1973.
Of the 13 places that reported fewer babies in 2008, seven – including South Carolina – were in the South.