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Oregon’s population is growing, but not because women are having babies. In fact, the stork has yet to deliver the state’s expected “baby bounce” recovery from the Great Recession, demographers say.

According to Oregon Health Authority records, births peaked in Oregon in 2007-08 but then dropped to a 10-year low in 2012 because of the recession. Last year, total births increased to 46,092, still 7 percent below the high mark of seven years ago. Birth rates in Multnomah and Washington counties reflect the same downward statewide trend.

Oregon’s declining birth rate, which has some forecasters worried, is coming in under the radar as the state’s population continues to grow, thanks to in-migration.

In the latest report from demographers at Portland State University, Oregon saw its total population move over the 4 million mark for the first time last year. Net in-migration, not new babies, accounted for 80 percent of the 51,135-person increase.

Oregon’s “replacement fertility rate” of 1.8 per woman (over a lifetime) means not enough babies are born each year to replace those who die at the other end of the age spectrum, says Kanhaiya Vaidya, senior demographer with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.

“But we are compensated by in-migration,” Vaidya says. “Oregon is a great place to live, the economy is doing well and baby boomers are retiring, which means more jobs for younger workers.”

Women must give birth to an average of 2.1 babies over a lifetime for the population to remain stable, not counting in-migration. The U.S. average birth rate at 1.8 per woman is also below replacement levels.

Big impacts

The declining fertility rate in Oregon and nationally has implications for the general economy in terms of household formation, home-buying trends and related consumer spending. Fewer babies also may have a longer-term impact on labor force availability, school classroom planning, funding of social programs and tax revenue projections.

Demographers have been tracking declining fertility rates for some time.

Globally, declining birth rates in industrialized nations and lengthening life spans are affecting durable goods purchases such as cars and the need for services, such as health care for an aging population. Germany’s birth rate has dropped to the lowest in the world, followed by Japan.

Bill Conerly, Portland economist, is convinced that the millennial generation — those born roughly between 1980 and 2000 — may still produce offspring at a higher rate sometime in the future.

“If we look at age-adjusted fertility rates, more women are delaying childbearing into their 30s,” Conerly says. “This shift is important because it says a lot about future housing demand. “When couples start pushing around baby strollers, they may opt for a house in the suburbs rather than in the urban core. A whole lot of spending adjustments occur when people have kids,” he says. “For instance, there may be trade-offs between buying diapers versus buying a new iPhone.”

Work force growth

Among rich countries, the U.S. remains demographically fortunate in that its working-age population still should grow into the mid-century, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. However, that growth will occur at a slower pace. That means the nation’s labor force will shrink as a share of total population from 66 percent to 60 percent. That could put a drag on growth, he says.

Meanwhile, net in-migration has either boosted population growth around the state or has prevented population losses in certain counties where deaths have out-numbered births, says Risa Proehl, population estimates program manager at PSU. Without in-migration, as many as half of Oregon’s counties would be seeing “natural” population declines because of more deaths than births, she says.

The state’s growing Latino population is mitigating losses from other groups.

“We might have seen a bigger drop in Oregon’s fertility rate over the past several years if it had not been partially offset by Latinos, a group with higher birth rates,” Proehl says.

The state’s population mix also is being affected by the aging Baby Boomer generation — those born in the two decades after World War II. This year, the vanguard of Baby Boomers born in 1946 are reaching their 70th birthdays.

“This is a big wave pushing through the life cycle,” Proehl says. “Seniors have smaller households because children are gone and now a spouse may have died.”

Proehl says the deepest part of the recession also affected birth rates.

“People tend to move around less when the economy is bad, which means that the number of women moving to Oregon who potentially would have given birth was smaller than in previous years,” she says.

However, even though Oregon’s economy has been on the upswing for several years, the number of babies born here is still lower than pre-recession levels.

Proehl also sees an ongoing shift when women have their first babies, a trend that has been under way since the early 1990s. As women become more educated, with a higher standard of living, the fertility rate drops. Oregon’s college towns, for instance, have lower fertility rates than the state average.

In-migration is making all the difference.

Last year, Multnomah and Washington counties added 11,700 and 10,000 new residents, respectively.

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