The high cost of living in Durango might be having an impact on birth rates in the area.
Durango School District 9-R consultant Lyn Eller presented demographic data this week showing the number of births in the district have fallen from a high of 423 births about a decade ago to 290 last year.
The birth rate has been falling statewide and across the country over a similar time period, according to a report by the Colorado State Demography Office.
The decline has been driven in part by lower teen birth rates, which is the result of long-term reversible contraceptives such as intrauterine devices, said State Demographer Elizabeth Garner.
Expensive day care and fear about the future of the world are some of the other reasons for the declining rates, she said.
In and around Durango, young families face high costs for housing, child care and other essentials, said Heather Hawk, executive director of the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County. Parents also want enough income to provide their children with experiences and opportunities, which can be tough to balance against other expenses, she said.
“We know that there are stressors in the community that make it more difficult for young families to live here,” she said.
For 9-R, the falling birth rate could mean lower enrollment in elementary schools, which can make them tougher to sustain financially, Eller said. Enrollment at 9-R’s middle and high schools is likely to be stable in coming years because families moving to the area are likely to have more earning power and older children, he said.
At the same time, enrollment in Bayfield schools is growing because young families are moving into the district for the affordability and casual lifestyle, said Superintendent Kevin Aten.
“It’s great for our schools because we have really involved parents,” he said.
Aten said he expects enrollment to continue to grow with the addition of a new subdivision in town.
Ignacio School District has seen stable enrollment at the elementary level, which is in line with demographic projections the district received a few years ago, said Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto.
“We hope to stay steady,” he said.
However, the district could see lower enrollment as the oil and gas industry declines, he said.
In small communities, a declining birth rate can lead to a declining population and slowing economy unless the communities have economic engines such as big agriculture or oil and gas that don’t depend on a large population, Garner said.
In general, La Plata County is a “beacon” of growth for the southwest corner of the state because of community assets that draw in new residents, such as Mercy Regional Medical Center, Durango-La Plata County Airport, Purgatory Resort and Fort Lewis College, she said.
“You’re our strongest by far in the southwest. ... You act to stabilize that part of the state,” she said.
The first step to address a falling birth rate is understanding the cause and whether the burdens on young families can be addressed, she said.
“In and of itself, a declining birth rate isn’t horrible; we just need to understand it,” Garner said.
Globally, a declining population would be more sustainable, said Richard Grossman, a columnist who writes about population for The Durango Herald. But reversing population growth is a slow process.
“Even if our birth rate went down to a very low level to just replacement, it would take six generations or so before the population would stop growing,” he said.