"More coffins than cradles": America's future?

The picture below of a recent first communion in Brooke County, West Virginia caught my eye — and it illustrates a growing problem among many American communities, where fewer children are being born.  Is this a glimpse at America’s future?

From the New York Times:

Life in this industrial area has slowed to a shuffle along with the steel mills that used to power it. Young people have moved away, leaving an aging population that no longer has the energy to put on street fairs or holiday parades.

In fact, this community in West Virginia’s northern panhandle holds an unwelcome distinction. With just 71 babies born on average for every 100 residents who die, Brooke County, in which Weirton is partly located, has the largest such gap in the nation among counties in metropolitan areas, save for a handful of places that are magnets for retirees. (Hancock County, which contains the other part of Weirton, is in similar demographic straits.)

The main reason Brooke County is so far off the national number — which is 171 births to 100 deaths — is that it has missed out on one of the dominant demographic trends to emerge from the recent census: the influx of young immigrants into communities across the United States. The median age for Hispanics, by far the largest immigrant group, is just 27, far lower than the median age for whites of 41.

Without immigrants or economic opportunities to keep its younger residents close to home, Brooke County and others like it are showing their age. At St. Paul Catholic Church in Weirton, the Rev. Larry Dorsch has buried 15 people this year and baptized one. The American Legion in Wellsburg has closed because of a lack of young supporters. Volunteer fire departments are so understaffed that people come from other towns to fight fires.

“You can declare a person dead, but you can’t declare a town dead,” said Daniel Guida, a lawyer in Weirton. “Some towns have energy, that spring in your collective step. We’re missing that. We need to get on with Act 2. But how?”

According to Kenneth Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, there are now 853 counties with similar population trends — “more coffins than cradles,” as he calls it — including parts of the Great Plains, the Midwest and New England. (The problem is even more acute across the Atlantic — countries in the European Union collectively will cross the threshold for having fewer births than deaths by 2015, and would experience population growth only through immigration, according to a 2009 report on aging published by the European Commission.)

“This is the story of what’s happening to white America,” Mr. Johnson said. “America is built by young people. They are the backbone. But what if they are not there?”

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15 responses to “"More coffins than cradles": America's future?”

  1. It is Saturday May 7, 2011 at about 11:25 when I post this. Here in my corner of the Midwest, the sky is bright blue, winds are calm and temperature is 66. Perfect weather for a First Communion — I know, because I just got back from one.

    It was performed in one of three parish churches in a small city of under 20,000. Of the three parishes, it is — far and away — the smallest with slightly under 2,400 “head-count.”

    There were fifteen first communicants in this ceremony; approximately 1/5 of all of those receiving the sacrament for the first time in this small city these past two weekends. In spite of the small number, the church was at capacity and some folks had to dig out folding chairs from the locker. Lots of non-Catholics as well came to rejoice in the advancement of these children.

    I was the deacon at this celebration because my grand-daughter was one of the recipients. In fact, she did the Second Reading. I gave her her first Communion — as I have done to many others in my family before her.

    The “Tribe of Norb” calls down God’s blessings on all First Communicants everywhere!

  2. Hispanic Immigrants are the future. I will have had 5 1st Communion Masses before the end of May, for a total of around 135 children. Confirmation class is 107 with less than 20 being white, the large majority are Hispanic.

    Lack of capitalism in Weirton, after the slow death of coal and steel. If Weirton could develop an industry that was profitable and not totally subsidized by govt, then it might work. Yet, the other problem is contraception among

    Nevertheless, more Hispanic families are buying into the lie of vasectomies, hysterectomies, and all the contraception. Many families have three children, at times four, which is the new “big” Catholic family for white Hispanic or Asian.

  3. ………duhhhhhhhhh yeh………until we get rid of ABORTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Michael S.

  4. This all has to do with birth control and abortion. Birth control is the norm in modern culture and abortion continues. Too many people don’t trust God, especially in regards to the size of their family. The culture is self-centered rather than family centered. If you have more than two children, there is something wrong with you (according to society).

  5. It sadly appears we are now beginning to reap what we have sowed . Now all these years with the decieving lies of contraception and easy, non reproducing ,self centered, aborting ,love .

  6. West Virginia is something of a special case. The fact is that young people who might be starting families have to leave the state to have a chance at a decent job. On the other hand, retirees who already own their own home have little incentive to move away.

    This is at least as much about economics as it is about contraception and abortion.

  7. I teach CCD and have 25 children in my First Communion class. There is hope….we will have more then 250 boys and girls making First Communion over the next 2 weekends!

  8. It’s called women now have a choice whether to have children or not. Women are no longer and haven’t been for awhile, just for making children—some now have careers, and many choose to not be a parent (no matter what faith they belong to). In a practical world, children cost money to raise—and not everyone has the money to do so. Abortion may be part of the reason (but IMO, should not be made illegal) but better is the availability of birth control methods. Those methods make the chances of needing an abortion less. Better prevention than a termination.

  9. The social compact that Social Security depends on assumes, among other things, that each generation of young adults has ENOUGH CHILDREN to pay taxes into the system to support their retired parents & grandparents.
    The Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1965), as a generation, have failed in this task. The observation in this column about First Communions being greatly outnumbered by funerals in some parishes is simply an early indicator of trends that are beginning to affect the entire US.
    Since the contraceptive generation failed to have enough children to keep Social Security running at its present tax & benefit structure, they will have to work more years- maybe until age 70 or age 72 – before retirement.
    There are not enough immigrants, legal or illegal or both, to offset this.
    What goes around comes around.

  10. Take heart, and take a gander around your local Catholic homeschooling groups.

    My wife and I are expecting our 6th in July. Our oldest daughter– 13 years old– is, of course, overjoyed.

    One of the reasons: she’s thrilled that we’ll now be a “big” family, as most of the families in our homeschooling circles have 6, 7, 8, 9, even 10 children. And all catechized diligently and accurately by loving Catholic families.


  11. Women who are busy “getting an education” and “establishing a career” will not begin to have children until they are 30 or 35, and that removes a very large part of a woman’s fertile years from potential childbearing. Many women who bought into society’s plan discover to their horror that now that their life is settled enough for starting a family, their body is no longer able. Unfortunately, the divorce culture also feeds this, as a woman with multiple children whose marriage fails will be doomed to poverty–unless she has said “career.”

    Stronger marriages which come about by better moral formation of children, and a willingness to live a less materialistic lifestyle would go a long way to repairing this, but so many parents are working to pay off college debt or even to just survive that I don’t see much improvement in store.

  12. I should probably add that yesterday I attended the graduation ceremonies for the Marshall University College of Science (in Huntington, WV), where I am in the Physics Department. The dean of the COS reluctantly but specifically advised graduates to move out of state if, as is all to common, there were no good opportunities for them in West Virginia. Marshall is a state university, which makes this advice all the more remarkable. The dean did ask them to move back when they were sufficiently well-established so that they could help develop the state’s economy, but clearly many of them will not.

    Many of our graduates will go on to have their 2.2 kids, just not in West Virginia.

  13. Teapot562: Two points:

    !. I have also lived in a relatively brand-new suburban parish where First Communions annually outnumbered funerals by at least ten-to-one. Those types of odd ratios — as a number of bloggers indicate — are more geographical than anything else.

    2. When you have a national life expectancy — at least for those who are now in their twenties — working its way into the late 80’s-early 90’s, retiring at 70 makes far more sense than it used to. Besides, even today, Social Security encourages folks to retire at 70 — prior to that point the system discounts your monthly payment by a surprising amount. I fully expect future changes in the system to account for folks living longer. Retiring at 70 will be the national norm for the generation now in their 20’s and 30’s: and they probably will not mind at all.

  14. Weirton is directly across the river from that Catholic bastion known as Steubenville, Ohio. In fact, when one goes to Franciscan University from the Pittsburgh airport, one must go through Weirton to get there. One wonders why the NY Times reporter didn’t do a little demographic comparison between the two. I’m willing to bet that he would have found quite a difference. The closing of the steel mills hit Dean Martin’s home town just as hard as it did Weirton.

    I’m also willing to bet that the two state’s policies differ enough that, despite the short commute time, more people who work at the school want to be on the Ohio side of the river rather than the W.V. side.

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