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Babies? Not in this economy. US birth rates plummet for fourth year

Birthrates have been declining for the past four years, according to a government report on Wednesday. It's a new phenomenon for a country with rising populations rates since the 1990s.

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Birth rates in the US are on the decline. Water baby dolls, November 20, 2008, St. Louis, MO.

Photo: Business Wire/Wild Planet Entertainment, Inc.

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U.S. births fell for the fourth year in a row, the government reported Wednesday, with experts calling it more proof that the weak economy has continued to dampen enthusiasm for having children.

But the decline in 2011 was just 1 percent — not as sharp a fall-off as the 2 to 3 percent drop seen in recent years.

"It may be that the effect of the recession is slowly coming to an end," said Carl Haub, a senior demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization.

Most striking were steep declines in Hispanic birth rates and a new low in teen births. Hispanics have been disproportionately affected by the poor economy, experts say, and teen birth rates have been falling for 20 years.

Falling births is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. Births had been on the rise since the late 1990s and hit an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007.

But fewer than 4 million births were counted last year — the lowest number since 1998.

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