Herbert Hoover once described children as “our most valuable natural resource.’’
If that’s the case, Nebraska has been enriched in recent years.
Nebraska added more children to its population between 2008 and 2009 than at any time since the 1960s, according to a recent analysis of census data by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research.
The net gain of some 4,600 children can be attributed to the convergence of two recent trends: higher numbers of births that are a distant echo of the post-World War II baby boom, and increased in-migration from other states and countries.
And while the new kids may indeed enrich the state, they will come with costs, too. The trend carries sizable implications for schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, public institutions and taxpayers.
In fact, school enrollment in Nebraska already is up, having climbed almost 8,000 students over the past three years after declines in earlier years.
“There’s definitely an upward trend right now,’’ said Bob Beecham, a data administrator for the Nebraska Department of Education.
Nebraska stands out in the region with its increasing child population, said UNO’s David Drozd, who analyzes census data for the state.
Nebraska and Missouri are the only states in the seven-state northern Plains region with a net gain of children in the past decade.
Nebraska had a net gain of about 1,400 children between 2000 and 2009, and Missouri’s gain was about 3,600. Iowa had a loss of more than 20,000 children. Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota all have seen declines of thousands of children.
For its population, Iowa is experiencing fewer births than Nebraska, perhaps because it has yet to experience the new baby boom echo, Drozd said. Iowa also has seen less international migration, a population that tends to have a higher birthrate.
The Census Bureau in December released population estimates indicating Nebraska had added almost 15,000 people between 2008 and 2009 — strong population growth by historical standards.
Related data released this month showed those figures were in part driven by strong growth in the state’s under-18 population.
Each year, that population changes as one group of kids turns 18 and, for census purposes, moves into adulthood. At the same time, more children are born and others move in and out of the state.
All the recent child population data are based on Census Bureau estimates. A complete actual head count will be taken in the official 2010 U.S. Census, with 120 million forms to be mailed starting in March.
Nebraska’s growth in children is a relatively new trend. In fact, as recently as 2005, in census estimates, child numbers were falling in Nebraska. But two things have happened since.
Births are up markedly. In fact, current estimates call for Nebraska births by 2015 to hit levels last seen more than a half-century earlier, in the final years of the baby boom.
The massive increase in U.S. births that followed World War II was followed by a smaller “echo boom’’ in the 1970s and early 1980s, when boomers reached adulthood and began having their own kids.
Decades later, those echo boomers are moving into their prime child-producing years in Nebraska. Increased births are responsible for about two-thirds of the child population growth that Nebraska saw between 2008 and 2009, Drozd said.
The rest can be attributed to increased migration, from other states and countries. Nebraska’s relatively strong economy likely factors into that trend.
Increased numbers of Hispanics are a big factor in both the migration and birth trends, Drozd said. But while the Census Bureau has yet to break down the most recent child population growth by race, recent data suggest that white births also are on the rise, he said.
So far, the increased school enrollments of recent years in Nebraska have been driven by increases in minority children, most of them Hispanic. Children being born now won’t be showing up in school enrollment figures for another five years.
Given that Nebraska historically has ranked high in the number of families where both parents are working, it’s likely there will be increased demand for preschool services, said Linda Zinke of the Nebraska Association for the Education of Young Children.
“Lots of working parents means lots of kids in child care someplace.’’
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