‘Growing Nebraska’ probably won’t be aided by birth rate

January 1, 2019

The need to grow Nebraska is a common theme these days, with Gov. Pete Ricketts mentioning it publicly every opportunity he gets.

Most recently, on Monday, he said it in his New Year statement: “Moving into 2019, we will continue to work to grow our state and create more great opportunities, so we can keep Nebraska the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family.”

According to a recently released report by the Nebraska Legislature’s Planning Committee, perhaps the emphasis should be on “raise a family.”

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, who wrote the report, said Nebraska’s population is aging, and the probability that the shortfall in Nebraska births will be covered by youthful in-migration offsetting out-migration and natural deaths is low.

A report in November to the Legislative Council on population trends showed the percentage of children under 5 is expected to remain flat in the state because people are not having as many children. Josie Schafer, director of the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha said a state needs population growth to have economic growth.

The latest Nebraska birth information available is from 2016 and shows the number of live births declined for the second year in a row that year -- decreasing in 2015 to 26,678, and then again in 2016 to 26,594.

That follows a national trend. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows U.S. births declined again in 2017, down 2 percent and the lowest number in 30 years.

Of course, you must square that with the census report this month that said the Cornhusker State added 11,693 people from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018, and now sits at 1,929,268 people. But that may be attributed to international migration into the state.

Schafer said Monday she wouldn’t necessarily say people need to have more babies.

“We need a combination of in-migration and children to be able to replace that baby boomer generation,” she said. “That population is now aging. They’re hitting 65. They’re hitting 75. And then we’re going to lose them.”

And the state needs a population base that replaces that large group, Schafer said. And it’s got to be a combination of a couple of different things.

There’s wide speculation about what causes people to have fewer kids, she said, including recession, war, and detachment from religious affiliation.

A recent report shows there’s also a decline in the number of children the Latino population is having. The decline was dramatic between 2007 and 2016, which continued but slowed after 2012.

People are just having fewer kids, Schafer said.

And that trend, Schumacher said, and its natural consequences will have a “profound impact on the state.”

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