Birth rates in the United States were already declining when the pandemic pulled the rug out from under our wobbly-legged society.
And now, two reports, one from the centrist Brookings Institute and the other from the University of Maryland, show that whatever birth rates America had are falling even further. An NBCLX article reported that states that track birth rates are already reporting significant drops. “That includes Florida (down 8% from Dec. 2019), Ohio (down 7%), and Arizona (down 5%).”
Research by Philip Cohen, a sociologist who teaches at the University of Maryland, shows that not only are birth rates down but so are pregnancy-related Google searches. The Brookings Institute estimates that the U.S. will see 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021.
A Guttmacher poll found that 34 percent of American women are delaying pregnancy because of COVID-19. The poll also discovered that “Black women (44%) and Hispanic women (48%) were more likely than White women (28%) to state that because of the pandemic, they wanted to have children later or wanted fewer children.”
Women, America’s only real social safety net, have broken.
A declining birth rate in conjunction with the devastating loss of life with a pandemic will further erode America’s social safety net. After all, who is going to pay into Social Security if we don’t have a tax base? But it’s exactly that lack of a social safety net that means women do not want to have children.
Let me spell it out for you clearly. The gender pay gap is real. And it’s worse for women of color. Women who take time off from work for children find themselves at even more of a loss of income. America also has the worst maternal mortality rate among developed nations because of deep institutional bias and a lack of standardized protocols. And this was before the pandemic. Now, with no schools, no daycare, no social support, and probably no job, since this recession is hurting women specifically, plus all of this stress and living in a house with a partner who statistically isn’t doing his share of the housework or Zoom school, now women are supposed to just suddenly feel in the mood to have babies because America’s tax base is eroding? Go to hell.
Go specifically to the hell that American women live in. Where year after year, we have to watch the theater of American politics debate our right to access medically necessary healthcare and create laws for our bodies based not on science but on a need for control. Also, women are not given adequate healthcare coverage to go to a doctor regularly, let alone deliver a baby or have a baby — and now is a great time to mention that there is no paid parental leave in America, no postpartum support, no universal preschool.
I love absolute gall of the lede of the NBC story. And I understand we are all emotionally depleted, and sometimes putting words together is difficult. So let us not attack the poor writer, whom we won’t name, and if I discover anyone went after him for this because of me, I’ll cancel you with my two bare hands. But this lede:
Forcing couples to shack up for months – with nowhere to go, and only so many Netflix shows to watch – may seem like the perfect recipe for a coronavirus baby boom.
To whom does it seem like the perfect recipe, sir? TO WHOM? We are locked inside and have to hear each other chew every single freaking day and now you are gonna add chronic sleeplessness and ice diapers? Have you met a baby? Just one?
Additionally, absolutely nothing about America puts women in a baby-making mood. America, as a place to procreate, is about as sexy as a bed of nails, and each nail has been personally sneezed on by Mitch McConnell. Year after year, we have to watch men stand up in our halls of Congress or state Capitols and argue that we shouldn’t be able to decide what to do with our uteri. When it comes to women’s bodies, policymaking in America is about as enjoyable as a family holiday where only the drunk uncles show up and there is no food.
And that was before America shut down and then we had to handle school and work and housework, all the while remaining front-line workers, COVID-19 vulnerable, and underpaid. Always underpaid, if we are paid at all.
There is an even darker reality inside homes, and that’s the inescapable reality of intimate partner violence, which experts report, like everything else, has been made worse in pandemic. Because women simply cannot leave and children no longer have the safety of school to escape to. The New York Times reported, “In April, phone calls and texts to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline increased 17 percent over the same period last year.”
And you want us to give you babies?
Listen, marriage rates are already plunging in pandemic, and while divorce rates have been down in 2020 because of a lack of economic options, complications of stay-at-home orders, and a backlog in courts, experts are predicting a surge of divorce filings in 2021.
The only large boom in America in 2021 will be the sound of so many women breaking.
Edit: An earlier version of this article referred to the Brookings Institute as conservative learning. They are usually described as “centrist” or “left of center.” I find the political leanings of think tanks to be important context.