Dec 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Immigration is the one easy trick to boost U.S. population growth

Illustration of the American flag with a stripe as a red carpet with a portable rope barrier beside it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The U.S. population grew just 0.1% in the year leading up to July 1, the lowest rate since the nation's founding — and a major cause is sharply decreased immigration.

Why it matters: Sluggish population growth is putting the U.S. on a pace to be an older, less productive and less dynamic country in the future.

  • Reversing declining fertility rates is challenging, but the U.S. could keep the population growing by increasing immigration — if it wants.

By the numbers: According to new data released yesterday by the Census Bureau, the U.S. population increased by just 392,665 people between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021.

  • For the first time ever, the increase from net international migration — the difference between the number of people who moved to the U.S. versus those who left — was a bigger contributor to population growth than a natural increase from the number of excess births over deaths.

Between the lines: The pandemic played a major role in nearly flat population growth, directly killing 475,000 people during the July to July year, indirectly contributing to more mortality by hindering access to medical care, and discouraging people from having children.

  • “We knew [COVID-19] has had a lot of economic impact, a lot of social impact; this shows it has had a big demographic impact that is going to last us for several years,” William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, told the Washington Post.

The big picture: The pandemic won't last forever, but the general decline in fertility rates in the U.S. is a long-running trend, one mirrored around the world, that seems unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

The catch: Even as immigration added more to population growth than natural increase, the number of people moving to the U.S. has fallen drastically in recent years, dropping from over 1 million in 2016 to just 247,000 in July 2020 to July 2021.

The bottom line: If the U.S. wants to add workers and dynamism in the future, letting in more of the people who desperately want to live here could help.

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