Welcome to the Baby Bust
In A/E/C/RE, population numbers matter. We rely on growth for much of our work. And births influence key sectors in very specific ways.
For starters, think of schools, healthcare, and housing types.
COVID has hit A/E/C/RE's demographic underpinnings hard. Immigration has stopped, as have some drivers of internal migration. Immigration and births were already down in the past few years. None of that is news.
Birth numbers have been a source of speculation since COVID began. Would we have more kids, or fewer? Births tend to drop during times of crisis and uncertainty, but what about when people are stuck at home?
The answer is starting to become clear: Fewer.
First we had educated guesses. Brookings predicted a significant drop in births in June, and updated their analysis in December. They projected 300,000 fewer births nationally for 2021 due to COVID. That would be an 8% drop using 2019 as a baseline, which was already 5% below the 2010-16 plateau.
Now some real data is starting to roll in. I spent a couple hours looking at what's available from 25 or so states, and found two with useful data.
Hawaii reported 30% fewer births in December 2020 vs. December 2019. That's remarkable, as December should only partially reflect COVID. But how much was a true drop vs. factors such as reporting lag or a lack of birth tourism?
Ohio might be more telling. Reported births were down 6% in December, 8% in January, and 12% in February vs. the same months a year prior. Those are close to Brookings' projections.
No word from Washington or Oregon yet.
So far, we have a likely trend, which needs to be confirmed by more states and more months.
I'll guess that we'll have a continued bust through COVID (plus nine), and to a lesser extent through the economic downturn.
How long will those factors last? And will a boom follow the bust, or will we just revert to some sort of normal?
A lot of sectors will be watching.
(Yes, the baby above is plotting something. The photo is used with her mom's permission.)