The number of people living in the United States has grown at the slowest rate in the past decade than in any other decade in American history, worrying demographers who see an aging population hampering long-term economic growth.
The country’s population has grown by only 6.6% in the past decade, according to new estimates from the US Census Bureau, released on Tuesday, to about 329.2 million people. This growth rate is less than the 7.3% increase that occurred in the decade of the Great Depression.
In the most recent decades, the United States has increased its population by between 10% and 17% between periods of the Census.
Last year, the United States added just 1.1 million residents, a growth rate of 0.35% – the lowest since the Census Bureau began making annual estimates 120 years ago.
“These new census estimates reveal a nation struggling with demographic stagnation at a level it hasn’t experienced in a long time,” said William Frey, senior demographer at the Brookings Institute.
The slowdown in growth rates is the result of several overlapping phenomena, demographers said, both of which pose a threat to future growth.
One is an ongoing baby bust, in which the average American woman is giving birth to fewer children and starting later. The birth rate in the United States has dropped to its lowest levels in 35 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The other is a substantial drop in the number of immigrants coming to the United States. Federal data shows that the number of immigrants who moved to the United States fell by about two-thirds from the last years of the Obama administration to the early years of the Trump administration, and recent Census data suggest that the number of immigrants who have moved there has fallen further. Immigrants tend to be younger than the nation as a whole and more likely to have children.
The resulting confluence is an aging population that, as members of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age, will become more dependent on younger workers for support – at the same time, the younger population is drying up.
“This is a human resources issue. We need more people in these younger populations, ”Frey told The Hill. “The aging of the population means more deaths, fewer births and makes immigration a much more important factor.”
The past decade has accelerated a long-term trend of Americans moving from the states of the Northeast and the Rust Belt to the states of the Sun and West Belt. Sixteen states have lost population in the past year and six states are smaller today than they were when the last census was completed a decade ago.
Illinois has experienced an exodus of more than a quarter of a million people in the past decade, the new Census estimates show. Almost one in 25 West Virginia residents has moved in the past decade. New York, Connecticut and Vermont lost population, as did Mississippi.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have seen their populations grow by more than 10 percentage points in the past decade. The country’s capital added more than 107,000 new residents, an increase of 17.8 percent, although growth slowed towards the end of the decade. Utah’s population has also grown by more than 17%.
No state has added more residents than Texas, where 4.1 million people have moved in the past ten years. Texas is expected to add three seats to its Congressional delegation after the next round of redistribution, according to recent estimates.
Florida and California have added more than 2 million residents each in the past decade. But their relative trajectories are totally different: Florida added almost a quarter of a million residents in the past year alone, an increase of about 1.1%. California saw an emigration for the first time in its history, as some 70,000 residents left the state between 2019 and 2020.
Net emigration from California, Frey said, is probably a function of the lower immigration rates during the Trump years. California residents have been leaving the state for years, but until recently they have been replaced at a faster rate by those who come from other countries.
Southern states have added more than 12 million residents in the past decade, led by growth in Texas and Florida. Western states added 6 million residents, while states like Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Washington and Oregon grew by more than 10 percentage points.
At the same time, midwestern states added just 1.4 million new residents, and northeastern states added just half a million, a relative stagnation in regions that once housed most Americans.
It is not immediately clear how the coronavirus pandemic may have slowed population growth. The new estimates from the Census Bureau took place on July 1, 2020, about four months after the start of the pandemic, meaning that they could have registered a slowdown in population growth and even some of the premature deaths caused by the virus.
But long-term trends in slowing population growth are enough to alarm demographers who are concerned about the aging population depending on fewer younger workers to maintain the social safety net.
“Growth is good anyway, but the decline in growth will focus on the young population and the young population in the workforce,” said Frey. “What that means is an increase in age dependence.”