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News of the Day ... In Perspective

10/21/2006

U.S. population growth slows; workforce in decline

America’s population reached the 300 million mark on October 18, greeted with more hand-wring ambivalence than chest-thumping pride. This time, no cheers rang through the lobby of the Commerce Department, as when the population clock reached the 200 million mark in 1967.

Part of the population increase results from an increase in longevity, which has jumped from 55 years in 1915 to 78 years.

One reason for anxiety is that in large part the U.S. population increase is fueled by immigration. Immigrants now constitute 12 percent of the population, double the fraction in 1967, though lower than the fraction during the “melting pot” years between 1860 and 1920, when it was 14 percent (Blaine Harden, Washington Post 10/12/06).

Despite the overall growth, the proportion of Americans aged 15 to 24 has been in decline since 1975. Today, it is 14.2 percent; by 2030, it is projected to be 13.0 percent and to continue to fall for the foreseeable future.

The American birth rate, now around 2.0 per woman, has fallen below the replacement level of 2.1.

Our legacy to the smaller number of workers in the next generation includes an $80 trillion deficit in Social Security and Medicare alone. Underfunded state and local government pension plans constitute another $2 trillion fiscal black hole (Chris Edwards and Jagadeesh Gokhale, Wall St J 10/12/06).

While complaints about overcrowding are frequently heard, the U.S. population density of 30 per square kilometer compares with an average of 43 worldwide. Out of 193 nations, the U.S. ranks 143rd in population density (Joseph D’Agostino, PRI Weekly Briefing 9/8/06, www.pop.org).

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