Schools Welcome a New Baby Boom

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American school enrollment will be higher this year than at the peak of the fabled baby boom. If history holds true, these bright-faced new boomers can expect to hold a lot of power down the road.


Everyone of a certain age is back in school now. Sharpened pencils, new lunchboxes - it all has a familiar feeling, even a familiar smell. The sharp smell of chalk and children, for me a very intense memory. But something else is taking me to dim, distant, back-to-school days.

We're talking the public system in Carlsbad, New Mexico in the middle of the last century, just beginning to fill up with Baby Boomers, the children of soldiers returning from the Second World War. I remember their arrival, hordes of little kids.

I noticed last week that school enrollment in the United States this year is just short of 55 million kids, a record, even more than the Boomers' peak years. Part of it is the birth rate. It went up in the '90s, perhaps because of prosperity, immigration, there are lots of factors.

But consider these numbers. In 1969, when K through 12 was all Boomers top to bottom, there were 52.5 million children in school. Then births and school enrollment tailed off for quite a few years. Schools in many communities were closed, systems downsized. But now everything is rising again.

Children are still a smaller share of the population than they were in the Boomer years, but that is changing too. Here are some of the things I remember and I wonder if it'll all happen again: schools weren't ready for the bump in the population. We had Army barracks moved onto the playground to accommodate the Boomers. This generation has trailers, double-wides.

At one point our high school was so crowded that some of the students had to walk down to the elementary school for lunch. The football players were really cute sitting in our little chairs. Speaking of football players: more and better choices for the coaches when this new generation arrives. The Carlsbad Cavemen did very week from the Baby Boom.

I've always resented the Boomers for keeping jeans tight and skirts short and everybody focused on youth for such a long, long time. The Boomers seemed to embrace adolescents. Will the kids trooping into schools today do the same?

There may be tough times ahead for this large cohort - competition for colleges, pressure on the housing market. And although the Boomers don't imagine themselves old, their retirement funds are a problem, so that's out there too. However, the great thing about being Boomers are even being just ahead of them, as I am, is that whatever they are thinking or doing or wearing or buying, everybody else has to fall in line with them. That is real power.

So for the little children who will be leading us into the future, that is the fun part.

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