According to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ recently published Arizona Health Statistics and Vital Statistics 2009 report, there were 92,616 resident births in 2009 – over 10,000 fewer than the number of births in 2007. Latinos and Hispanics experienced the largest decline, accounting for 7 out of 10 fewer births.
Even though fertility rates are declining in most advanced industrial societies – the economic implications of which are profound – we suspect the Arizona decline has more to do with a decline in younger Latino and Hispanic residents. A significant number have left the state over the past several years due to the economic recession and strict enforcement of immigration laws, as evidenced by fewer of their children enrolled in public schools and fewer emergency room visits.
There are those who believe this is a good thing. They are dead wrong. Today’s efforts to restrict immigration will be replaced by tomorrow’s efforts to attract immigrants as the population explosion of the past century begins to taper off and nations compete for bodies, talent and smart, creative risk-takers.
A short-term decline in births does not a trend make, but surely it is a warning sign. Arizona should be attracting people, not shutting them out or chasing them away. We need a sustainable birth rate. We need to invest in child- and family-friendly policies and communities. A healthy future depends on it.