Thursday, December 22, 2011

Population Implosion

Future Santa will have less trips to make:

The population of the United States grew this year at its slowest rate since the 1940s, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday, as the gloomy economy continued to depress births and immigration fell to its lowest level since 1991.

The population grew by 2.8 million people from April 2010 to July 2011, according to the bureau’s new estimates. The annual increase, about 0.7 percent when calculated for the year that ended in July 2011, was the smallest since 1945, when the population fell by 0.3 percent in the last year of World War II.

The sluggish pace puts the country “in a place we haven’t been in a very long time,” said William H. Frey, senior demographer at the Brookings Institution. “We don’t have that vibrancy that fuels the economy and people’s sense of mobility,” he said. “People are a bit aimless right now.”

Underlying the modest growth was an immigration level that was the lowest in 20 years. The net increase of immigrants to the United States for the year that ended in July was an estimated 703,000, the smallest since 1991, Mr. Frey said, when the immigrant wave that dates to the 1970s began to pick up pace. It peaked in 2001, when the net increase of immigrants was 1.2 million, and was still above 1 million in 2006. But it slowed substantially when the housing market collapsed, and the jobs associated with its boom that were popular among immigrants disappeared.

Mr. Passel said that the bulk of the reduction in recent years had been among illegal immigrants, adding that apprehensions at the border are just 20 percent of what they were a decade ago. (The Census Bureau does not ask foreign-born residents their status, but Mr. Passel believes the count includes most people here illegally. )

A lagging birth rate also contributed. Births in the United States declined precipitously during the recession and its aftermath, down by 7.3 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to Kenneth M. Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. There were slightly over four million births in the year that ended in July, the lowest since 1999.

Economic trauma tends to depress births. In the Great Depression, the birth rate fell by a third, Mr. Johnson said. It is unclear whether the current dip means that births are being delayed or that they are foregone, as they were in the Depression, he said.

In a particularly striking measure of economic distress, birth rates among Hispanics, who are concentrated in states hardest hit by the economic downturn, like Florida and Arizona, declined by 17 percent from 2007 to 2010, Mr. Johnson said. That is compared with a 3.8 percent decline for whites and a 6.7 percent decline for blacks. Rates dropped most sharply among young Hispanics, down by 23 percent for women ages 20 to 24 between 2007 and 2010.

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