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Hispanic birth rate skyrockets in Southeast

By Mike Stobbe
AP Medical Writer

ATLANTA — Hispanic births are skyrocketing in the Southeast, where an increase of at least 40 percent was recorded in five states between 2000 and 2003, according to a new government report.

Among the states with the largest increases were Kentucky (80 percent), South Carolina (62 percent), Alabama (53 percent), Tennessee (53 percent) and Arkansas (40 percent), the report found.

The report, from the National Center for Health Statistics, is called the first state-by-state breakdown of birth and fertility rates in the U.S. Hispanic population.

U.S. births for non-Hispanic whites decreased 10 percent between 1990 and 2000, and 2 percent between 2000 and 2003, the report showed. Births for blacks declined 9 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

In contrast, births for Hispanic women jumped 37 percent between 1990 and 2000, and another 12 percent between 2000 and 2003.

But there were differences in birth and fertility rates among Hispanic sub-populations, noted Paul Sutton, an author of the new report.

"Hispanics are not a monolithic group. There's a tremendous variation" in births among women of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban origin, said Sutton, a statistician and geographer with the National Center for Health Statistics.

Mexican rate highest

Mexicans had the highest birth rates overall, followed by Puerto Ricans and Cubans. Mexicans gave birth in their teens and early 20s at higher rates, while for Cuban-Americans, the highest birth rate was for women in their late 20s.

And while California and Texas continue to have the largest Mexican populations, North Carolina and Georgia had the highest fertility rates for Mexican mothers.

In North Carolina, there were 181 births per 1,000 Mexican women ages 15 to 44 in 2000. In Georgia, the fertility rate was 180 per 1,000 Mexican women.

In contrast, the U.S. fertility rate for Mexican-American women was 105 per 1,000. California's was 112, and Texas' was 124.

It's not likely Georgia or North Carolina will soon surpass Texas or California in Hispanic births: In 2003, nearly 270,000 babies were born to Hispanic mothers in California and 183,000 in Texas, but 18,000 in Georgia, 16,000 in North Carolina, and 5,000 or fewer in most other Southeast states.

But the relative increase in the Southeast states is notable, and may have implications for health-care facilities and state budgets, particularly if some or many Hispanic families are uninsured.

WakeMed — a 515-bed hospital in Raleigh, N.C. — saw Hispanic births rise from 463 in 1997 to 1,819 in 2005.

Hispanics account for about 36 percent of the births at the hospital. Most years, more than 90 percent are Mexican, said Dr. Juan Granados, who trains obstetrics residents at the hospital.

Only about 3 percent of the families have health insurance, he said. Fortunately, the state provides a special Medicaid payment to help offset such unreimbursed care, he added.

"So the hospitals don't go into bankruptcy," said Granados, a University of North Carolina professor of obstetrics and gynecology and maternal and fetal medicine.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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