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Birth Rate Plunges, Projected To Reach Lowest Level In Decades

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The average number of births per woman in the U.S. is likely to plunge to a 25-year low in 2012 and 2013.
The average number of births per woman in the U.S. is likely to plunge to a 25-year low in 2012 and 2013.

It's one of those economic recoveries where we just can't afford to reproduce.

The average number of births per woman in the U.S. is likely to plunge to a 25-year low in 2012 and 2013, according to Demographic Intelligence, a consulting firm that analyzes fertility data and forecasts birth rates, which was cited by USA Today. The birth rate has plunged most significantly among the less educated and Hispanics, while it continues to increase among college-educated whites and Asian-Americans.

The number of children born in the U.S. has plunged 8 percent since its all-time high in 2007, and population growth is at its slowest growth rate since the Great Depression, according to government data.

A middle-income family will spend $235,000 (or $295,560 if adjusted for projected inflation) to raise a child from birth to age 17, according to the Department of Agriculture. The annual cost of raising a child is between $12,290 to $14,320 per year for middle-income families, according to a 2011 government report.

The price of parenthood is simply too high for young people, who are arguably suffering the most in the anemic job market.

According to the Labor Department, 38 percent of all unemployed workers in the U.S. are between 20 and 34 years old -- key years for building job experience and making wage gains.

Even when young people do find work, their jobs don't pay well enough to raise a family. The average starting salary for the college classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011 is $27,000 per year, down from $30,000 per year for the college classes of 2006 and 2007, according to Rutgers.

Japan is a cautionary example of what could happen if the U.S. economy stays weak indefinitely. Japan has been in an economic downturn since the early 1990s, and as a result it now is facing a demographic crisis: the Japanese population is projected to shrink by one-third by 2060, and by then 40 percent of the Japanese population is projected to be age 65 and older.

Some developing countries with high poverty tend to have some of the highest birth rates in the world, due in part to poor access to education and birth control for women. But birth rates tend to fall in industrialized countries when the job market is weak.

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