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(Note: The figure varies according to sources. The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Sourcebook puts the U.S. fertility rate at 2.09, right below North Korea's.)

But the U.S. looks good, Steyn says, compared with, for instance, Canada. Canadians are creating 1.5 children per woman, which means two people are only making 1.5 children, well below replacement rate. "Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy's population will have fallen by 22 percent, Bulgaria's by 36 percent, Estonia's by 52 percent."

By 2050, Steyn predicts, there will be 100 million more Americans, but 100 million fewer Europeans. "In 1970, there were 4.6 million Italians under five years old. By 2004, there were 2.6 million. And the fewer babies you have today, the fewer grown-ups are around to have babies in 20 years."

But the U.S., and especially San Diego, has a growing Hispanic minority to bolster its fertility figures, to make the county look good in the worldly reproduction stakes.

Schafer says that in San Diego the birthrate for both non-Hispanic blacks and whites is pretty low, but for Asians it's a little higher. They're probably at 2.1, 2.2, compared with Hispanics' 2.4 or 2.5. If you want to see where county birthrates are the highest, geographically, you'd look for areas with concentrations of Hispanic and Asian Americans. And you'd find these mainly in the southern part of the county.

"I-8 is the big dividing line, culturally, ethnically," Schafer says. "In the south parts of the county, the population is generating itself by natural increase. North County's population will grow too, but that will largely be the result of net in-migration, particularly domestic U.S. migration. International migrants will [also] tend to settle in the south part of the county, because it's cheaper."

Indeed, Schafer says, America's Finest is ahead of the curve in the Hispanic reconquista ("reconquest"), as some put it -- jokingly, mostly -- of the Southwest. "Nationally the Hispanic population is around 12-13 percent of the [general population]. In San Diego it's 25 percent, heading for 38 percent. The U.S. is at about 2.1 births per female [his figure is lower than Steyn's or the CIA's]. That's about replacement level. Ours are higher than Europe's because of our recent influx of immigrants. If we didn't have a lot of immigrants, we'd probably be down around 1.8 or so."

And yet, as these same Hispanic families settle in and assimilate, they'll follow the same trends, Schafer says. "In a modern society like the United States, generally it takes two incomes [to sustain a family]. And once women enter the labor force, the first thing they do is start lowering their fertility drastically. Remember the average [Hispanic] birthrate was 2.9 births per female in 1995? Now it's down to about 2.4. So in less than ten years, we've cut a whole half a child out of the birthrate, which is a big decline."

It's a breezy Sunday afternoon. I emerge from the Santa Fe Depot into the sunlight and cross over

Kettner to the line of taxis, most of them orange.

I've decided it's time for some unscientific surveying, out in the real world, to address two basic questions: what's causing this general decline in fertility -- the stresses of modern society? exhaust fumes? exhaustion? -- and who's actually doing this county's heavy lifting, reproduction-wise?

The cab drivers stand in a clump arguing and laughing near that glossy giant fiberglass Luis Jiménez sculpture called Border Crossing/Cruzando el Rio Bravo, which depicts an immigrant carrying a woman and child on his shoulders.

Why not start here?

"Somalia," says one of the drivers when I ask where they're from. Aha. Lucky break. Somalia, which Steyn trumpeted as the land of the highest per capita birthrate in the world, 6.91 births per female.

"Are you married?" I ask Herzi, the driver.

He nods. His wife's name is Faduma.

"How many children do you have?"

"I have seven children."

"Would most Somali men here have that number?"

"No. Some of them have 1, some 2, some 10. But my friends in Somalia have two wives, three wives, four wives, maybe 20 children."

He laughs.

"Here it would be more difficult, because of the law, and because it is too expensive to live."

Herzi rents an apartment, with help. "We have affordable housing. They look at your income, and [they charge less because] I have a lot of children."

"Is it difficult for you with seven children?"

"Yes. It's very difficult. I don't drive the taxi much because [my family] needs time with me. I need time with them, for the children, to go to the playground, school, help them with their homework. If one or two are sick, we must go to the doctor or hospital. When I'm driving the taxi I buy food, I buy clothes, I buy shoes. A lot of work. Until they grow, I will be full-time poor."

"Might you have more children?"

"Well, right now my wife is not pregnant. Having lots [of children] in America, it's very tough. We are not making enough money. In Somalia it is easier. In Somalia we don't pay rent. You have your house. The children are useful there. They look after the animals, if you're in the countryside. Here it's just take care of the children, watching them. How can you have the time for everything? Children, school, doctor, supermarket, watching them every day. You are like a servant."

"So which is the better life? Somalia or San Diego?"

"Oh, Somalia. Right now we have some civil war. But it used to be nice. [Relatives] will help you. You have free hospital, free education. You just have to pay for food, what we can eat. Life's easy!"

"Would you have more than one wife if you were in Somalia?"

"Our religion says you can. If I have enough money to look after each wife equally, I can marry up to four. But I can't do it here."

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