The U.S. birthrate fell again in 2018, to 3,788,235 births — representing a 2% drop from 2017. It’s the lowest number of births in 32 years, according to a new federal report. The numbers also sank the U.S. fertility rate to a record low.

Not since 1986 has the U.S. seen so few babies born. And it’s an ongoing slump: 2018 was the fourth consecutive year of birth declines, according to the provisional birthrate report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Birthrates fell for nearly all racial and age groups, with only slight gains for women in their late 30s and early 40s, the CDC says.

The news has come as something of a surprise to demographers who say that with the U.S. economy and job market continuing a years-long growth streak, they had expected the birthrate to show signs of stabilizing, or even rising. But instead, the drop could force changes to forecasts about how the country will look — with an older population and fewer young workers to sustain key social systems.

“It’s a national problem,” says Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California.

“The birthrate is a barometer of despair,” Myers says in response to the CDC data. Explaining that idea, he says young people won’t make plans to have babies unless they’re optimistic about the future.

Full story at NPR.org.