The results of the 2020 census are a warning sign that America is on a course for slow population growth.
Economists broadly agree that population growth fuels economic growth in wealthy countries. But the recently released census figures show the US population grew by just 7.4 percent, or 331.5 million people, between 2010 and 2020 — the lowest rate since the 1930s. Projections suggest that, unless current trends change, those numbers could continue to diminish dramatically over the next two to three decades, with the population growing by just 78 million by 2060.
Some parts of the US are already beginning to experience some of the downsides of population slowdown or decline: Shrinking tax bases in rural areas have made it harder for government budgets to support essential services, such as infrastructure and public schools. As population growth slows, the pressure for cuts will likely grow. Meanwhile, the existing population will continue to age; by 2030, the Census Bureau estimates that one in five US residents will be of retirement age.
“Slow population growth, at least in the United States and a lot of other developed countries, will become a dire age dependency problem,” William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brooking Institution’s metropolitan policy program, said. “It puts a big strain on the rest of the population.”
There are ways that policymakers can turn the situation around — the Biden administration has advocated for family-friendly policies that could make it easier for Americans to have more children. But that will not be enough to overcome a widening gap in the number of working-age adults that are able to support an aging population of baby boomers.
That leaves immigration, which has historically insulated the US from population decline and represents a kind of tap that the US can turn on and off. Over the next decade, it is set to become the primary driver of population growth for the first time in US history. The question now is exactly how much more immigration might be needed to accelerate population growth — and whether US policymakers can actually overcome their political differences on the issue to make it an effective tool. [Continue reading…]