Apr 28, 2021 - World

U.S. population growth is on a downward slope

An empty playground in New York City

An empty playground in New York City. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

New data from the U.S. census shows that American population growth in the 2010s was the slowest since the 1930s, and COVID-19 will likely be a further drag.

Why it matters: Demography has always been destiny, and America's sheer size and relatively young age have been vital components to its global influence. An America that grows slower and older will face new challenges around economics and innovation.

By the numbers: The first data from the 2020 U.S. census, released this week, indicates that as of April 1, 2020, the U.S. population stood at 331.5 million people.

  • That represents a 7.4% increase between 2010 and 2020, which is the second-slowest rate of expansion, after the 1930s, since the government began taking a decennial count in 1790.
  • The new estimates also show that the U.S. population grew by just 0.35% between July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020 — the lowest annual growth rate since at least 1900.
  • An analysis from the AP indicates that births for all of 2020 were down 4.3% from 2019, and that births from last December through January and February 2021 — nine months after the spring lockdowns that some thought might lead to a COVID baby boom — were down 6.5%, 9.3% and 10% respectively from the previous year.

The big picture: Slowing population growth is a result of a declining birthrate, declining life expectancy and declining immigration.

  • Put that together and you have a population that is still growing, but much more slowly than in the past, and a country that is increasingly old.
  • Census data indicates there are now more Americans 80 years or older than those 2 years or under.

Context: Slower population growth may seem like a boon in a time of increasing anxiety over climate change — not to mention a housing shortage — but aging and eventually shrinking demographics could lead to a bleaker and weaker country.

Yes, but: It could be worse — the Financial Times reported that China is expected to announce its first overall population decline since the killer famines of the 1950s, leaving the country with a shrinking population of young workers to support an enormous number of elderly.

The bottom line: The U.S. has one major advantage over China in the demographic wars — millions of people actually want to move here.

  • But whether or not they're permitted to will depend on immigration policy.
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