Erie Vital Signs

Mother's Day

Paul Gibbons

For Mother’s Day, we thought it would be interesting to look at what the data say about mothers and children in Erie County. Sure, we all have a warm fuzzy spot in our hearts for mothers, but what can the cold hard data tell us about Erie mothers?

1. First, the basic numbers

Let’s start by asking how many mothers there are in Erie County. Unfortunately, none of the government data agencies seem to be asking that question. But from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, we know that in Erie County in 2013 there were 18,005 married-couple family households with their own children under 18 living with them. And there were another 8,523 households that were headed by a female with no husband present, also with their own children under 18. That’s at least 26,528 mothers raising kids under 18. But of course, there are many more moms whose kids are older than 18—the ones who will be waiting for a call and maybe some flowers or candy on Sunday. (By the way, all you adult children: the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns program tells us that there were 16 florists in Erie County in 2013, and 564 food service and drinking places. So buy her a corsage and take her to brunch. Nothing says “I love you, Mom” like a couple of mimosas.)

2. Bundles of joy

In 2012, there were 3,123 babies born in Erie county. While we welcome those new Erieites, that’s a 10% drop from the 3,471 born in 2000. And the trend has been decreasing in most years of this millennium, with the exception of a notable spike of 3,529 newborns in 2007. The state of Pennsylvania has also experienced a drop in the number of births, but statewide this drop has only been 3.4% compared to Erie’s 10.0% drop. Interestingly, PA also experienced a spike in 2007. So what was going on that year? Was it something special in the water, or maybe the housing boom? We’ll have to leave that to other experts to explain.

The Census Bureau tells us further that between July 2012 and July 2013, the crude birth rate (number of births per 1,000 residents) was 11.3 for Erie county, a bit lower than the national rate of 12.6.

3. Storks

The Presque Isle Audubon Society tells us that storks are rare in Erie, except perhaps for the occasional flyover. So maybe that helps explain the falling birth rate? (Note: no, the Stork Indicator is not on Erie Vital Signs.)

4. Babies having babies

In 2012, only 2.8% of all births in Erie county were to mothers under 18 years of age. And that number has been falling more or less consistently since 2000, when it stood at 4.4%. The drop in child motherhood has been especially pronounced for Erie’s African-Americans, where the rate has fallen by half, from 12.5% in 2000 to 6.2% in 2012. While these trends are clearly in the right direction, Erie’s rates are still about a third higher than the statewide rates of 2.1% overall, and 4.5% for African-Americans.

5. Motherly love starts early

There’s good news about soon-to-be mothers. Nearly 79% of all pregnant Erie women received prenatal care in their first trimester in 2012, That’s up from 71.3% the year before, and it’s higher than the statewide rate of 72.4%. Moreover, 78.1% of Erie’s births in 2012 were to nonsmoking moms. That’s up from less than 72% in 2005. Good job, moms! Statewide, over 82% of all births are to nonsmoking mothers, so Erie still can do a bit better for her newborns, but our recent data are moving in the right direction.

6. Chubby cheeks?

In 2012, only 6.8% of all babies were underweight, so maybe that prenatal care is paying off. That percentage was down significantly from 9.5% just two years before, and is below the PA average of 8.1%. The bad news is that the percentage of underweight babies had a pronounced upward trend between 2000 and 2010. The good news is that the last two years have seen a noticeable drop. And this is despite the fact that the percentage of preterm births has risen slightly to 10.7%. Hopefully the recent data signal the start of a new trend toward fewer low-birthweight babies.

7. And chubby children

Later in life, the “underweight” problem is clearly not a problem anymore. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Erie’s kids are apparently getting plenty to eat—or perhaps the wrong things to eat. In 2012-13, nearly 54% of kids—more than half—in kindergarten through sixth grade were overweight or obese. And 48% of the kids in grades 7 through 12 fell into that category. That does not bode well for their future health. Maybe Erie needs a motivational visit from First Mom Michelle Obama to convince our kids “Let’s Move”? On the positive side, we suspect that our kids’ thumbs are much stronger than in previous generations, given the workout they get from texting and video games. Now if we could only tie that into high-paying careers later in life…

8. Early childhood education

In the 2012-2013 academic year, over 57% of Erie County youngsters were enrolled in an early childhood education (ECE) program. That’s significantly better than the 43% reported for Pennsylvania statewide. It has become increasingly clear that ECE plays a crucial role in a child’s development, and sets them up for success in many areas of their life later. Erie is fortunate to have so many ECE opportunities, that that so many of Erie’s loving moms make sure their kids get to take advantage of those opportunities.

9. Names

According to the Social Security Administration, the most popular baby names nationally in 2013 were:

  • Girls: Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Isabella, and Ava
  • In 1914, the top five were: Mary, Helen, Dorothy, Margaret, and Ruth
  • Boys: Noah, Liam, Jacob, Mason, and William
  • In 1914, the top five were: John, William, James, Robert, and Joseph.

Possibly the worst baby names: Kal-El (Cage), Apple (Paltrow), Sage Moonblood (Stallone), Seven (Badu), Kyd (Leoni-Duchovny), Moon Unit (Zappa), Tu (Morrow) and, of course, Blanket (Jackson). How long before we see little Hashtag in first grade?


This EVS Special Report was written by Dr. James Kurre, Director Emeritus, Economic Research Institute of Erie, in the Black School of Business, Penn State Behrend.

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