THE NEXT 100 MILLION AMERICANS
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
The one sure thing about US population as it moves past 300 million -
expected to happen in the next few days - is that there will be more
Americans. A lot more.
Everything else is informed speculation. Still, much will turn on how
big the United States becomes and how fast it grows - from its use of
natural resources to its settlement patterns to shifts in political
There will be 400 million Americans in 2043, climbing to 420 million
by midcentury, the US Census Bureau estimates. The added numbers will
change the nature of the populace, reflecting trends already begun.
Between the last official census in 2000 and the one of 2050,
non-Hispanic whites will have dwindled from 69 percent to a bare
majority of 50.1 percent. The share who are Hispanic will have doubled
to 24 percent. Asians also will have doubled to 8 percent of the
population. African-Americans will have edged up to 14 percent. In
other words, the US will be on the verge of becoming a "majority of
Wars, natural disasters, shifts in the economy, unforeseen social and
political developments - any or all of these could affect the numbers,
perhaps dramatically. For one thing, America could, as many voters and
their elected officials now demand, clamp down on immigration. The
country's unusually high teen pregnancy rate could drop. Scientific
advances could extend longevity.
In any case, Americans are expected to continue to gravitate west and
south. Today, the Top 10 fastest growing states, cities, and
metropolitan areas are all in those regions, mostly in the West. In
general, the West and South have been growing two to three times as
fast as the Northeast and Midwest.
The great American midsection, meanwhile, will continue to empty out.
When historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the American frontier
"closed" in 1893, he was using the Census Bureau definition of
"frontier" as areas having no more than six people per square mile. By
that same density definition, the number of such counties actually has
been increasing: from 388 in 1980 to 397 in 1990 to 402 in 2000.
Kansas has more "frontier" land now than it did in 1890.
If these regional shifts continue as expected, the political impact
will be felt. For one thing, membership in the US House of
Representatives, fixed at 435 seats, would change, producing winners
and losers just as it has with recent censuses. It may shift the
current alignment of "red" states and "blue" states - but other
factors besides population growth in the South and West may influence
that political balance.
SOURCE: CENSUS BUREAU PROJECTIONS; RICH CLABAUGH - STAFF
For example, wealthy, relatively liberal Californians and others with
money to spend have been buying up ranch land in politically
conservative Rocky Mountain states such as Montana, Idaho, and
Wyoming. Many of them are more inclined to want to protect the
environment from energy exploration and other development.
An increasing Hispanic population - which could see 188 percent growth
between 2000 and 2050, according to the Census Bureau - could affect
the political balance as well.
At the same time, the population will become relatively older. A
person born in 1967, when the population turned 200 million, could be
expected to live 70.5 years. Life expectancy for those born today is
More older Americans
The impact of the aging baby-boom generation, whose oldest members
turn 60 this year, will be felt on Social Security and Medicare. "We
really are doing very well in terms of extending life, and that is
going to increase the rate of population growth," says Samuel Preston,
a University of Pennsylvania demographer. It could also have political
SOURCES: TRUSTEES OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE TRUST FUNDS;
CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES; RICH CLABAUGH - STAFF
As the US moves toward 400 million people, Americans can be expected
to marry later in life, and more of them will live alone. Between 1970
and 2005, the median age of first marriage moved from 23 to 27 for men
and from 21 to 26 for women. Over the same period, the percentage of
single-person households grew from 17 percent to 26 percent. Those
trends are likely to continue.
Experts generally believe that expansion to meet the housing and other
community needs of a growing population is likely to remain
concentrated in suburbs and exurbs.
"Most projections show that the continued increase in the US
population and the projected 50 percent increase in space devoted to
the built environment by 2030 will largely take place in the sprawling
cities of the South and West, areas dominated by low-density,
automobile-dependent development of residential, commercial, and
industrial space," writes demographic trend-watcher Joel Kotkin in a
recent issue of the magazine The Next American City.
MORE TO COME: Seniors at a retirement community in State College, Pa.,
enjoy a water aerobics class. People over age 66 will be 19.4 percent
of Americans by 2043, up from 11.8 percent now.
Concerns about use of resources
This kind of continuing development tied to US population growth
worries many environmentalists, as well as those concerned about the
loss of farmland.
Annual US population growth of nearly 3 million contributes to the
water shortages that are a serious concern in the West and many areas
in the East, says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy
Institute. Water tables are now falling throughout most of the Great
Plains and in the Southwest, he warns. Some lakes are disappearing and
rivers are running dry.
"As water supplies tighten, the competition between farmers and cities
intensifies," says Mr. Brown. "Scarcely a day goes by in the western
United States without another farmer or an entire irrigation district
selling their water rights to cities like Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix,
Los Angeles, or San Diego."
Concern about a growing populace and decreasing resources is likely to
push governments toward conservation and more sustainable development,
This may be especially true of energy. Nineteen states and the
District of Columbia now have renewable portfolio standards that
require electric utilities to use more wind, solar, biomass,
geothermal, and other renewable sources.
"The global context will really drive what happens in the United
States," says futurist Hazel Henderson.
Last month, for example, the Chinese government released its first
"green" gross domestic product (GDP) report. It measures economic
growth while also factoring in the environmental consequences of that
growth. Other governments and financial intuitions now are being
pushed in the same direction. US portfolio managers in charge of $30
trillion in assets now demand carbon disclosures of all the companies
in their portfolios, says Ms. Henderson.
"The tipping point has been reached there," says Henderson. "I feel
very hopeful that the evolution to the solar age could happen much
quicker than we might have expected because it's being driven by so
many stress points, from global warming to water shortages to
By mid-century, she predicts: "Cars will be getting 100 m.p.g. if
they're still using gasoline instead of fuel cells. That's definitely
a no-brainer. Cities and towns will get more and more compact as these
sprawling suburbs end up being too costly and inefficient."
SOURCES: CENSUS BUREAU PROJECTIONS; AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST; RICH
CLABAUGH - STAFF
That vision for the future contrasts sharply with Mr. Kotkin's. But
given current political, economic, environmental, and social trends -
especially the unknowns about world energy supplies - it is likely to
be just as valid.
Meanwhile, the US population clock keeps ticking: Every 8 seconds
somebody is born. Every 13 seconds somebody dies. Every 31 seconds
there's another immigrant - legal or illegal. It adds up to a net gain
of one person every 11 seconds, or about 8,000 every day. It took 39
years to add the most recent 100 million; the next 100 million will
take a couple of years less than that. [ Editor's note: The original
version omitted the national birth rate.]
The US population growth rate is expected to decline a bit by
mid-century. Still, by then the numbers will have increased to some
420 million, according to official calculations. Critics of US
immigration policy say the number could be significantly higher.
"If Congress should end up ducking the issue of immigration reform and
maintaining the status quo of mass legal and illegal immigration, our
population is projected to still continue its rapid growth," warns the
Federation for American Immigration Reform in a recent report. "Our
projection is for a population of between 445 and 462 million
residents depending on the assumptions used."
Diversity is changing attitudes
But societal changes tied to population are more than numbers.
As the racial and ethnic mix among Americans shifts in the decades
ahead, public attitudes are likely to change as well. In some ways,
they already are.
SOURCE: CENSUS BUREAU PROJECTIONS; RICH CLABAUGH - STAFF
Click here to enlarge the image
For example, between 1986 and 2003, the share of adults who approved
of interracial marriage rose from 70 percent to 83 percent, according
to a Roper Reports study. This trend is especially true among young
Americans. A 2002 Gallup survey showed that just 30 percent of adults
65 and older approved of marriage between blacks and whites. But among
people between 18 and 29, 86 percent said they had no problem with
"The fact that today we see young people intermarrying more,
interracial dating much more common - all of that I think portends
that we're going to become much more ecumenical in the way we look at
things than we were in the past," says William Frey, a demographer at
the University of Michigan and the Brookings Institution. "I think
we'll have much more tolerance for people of other backgrounds,
cultures and languages, points of view, and religious and belief systems."
What's certain is that there will be a lot more Americans.
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