New census data highlights the important role of immigration in the fight against the decline of the American population
More than two-thirds of U.S. counties experienced a natural decline in population between 2020 and 2021, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. That means nearly 2,300 counties across the country have recorded more deaths than births, providing further evidence that the United States is growing at its slowest rate in history.
This trend could be offset by immigration, but only if more people choose – and are able to – move to the United States.
Although much of the downward trend is due to COVID-19, which has killed nearly one million Americans since the start of 2020, other trends have also contributed to this demographic slowdown. As people choose to have fewer children or no children at all, US birth rates have continued to fall to their lowest levels in decades.
This is a challenge to America’s future prosperity, because a stable, if not growing, population is one of the foundations of a healthy economy. Industries need workers to meet demand and grow, businesses need a consumer base to survive, and governments need a strong tax base to pay for services and infrastructure. A decrease in population is a reversal of this cycle.
Without immigration, the United States could soon find itself in a demographic situation similar to that of Japan, in which fewer working adults are forced to support an ever-growing population of elderly people.
Overall, only 58.0% of US counties experienced positive population growth between 2020 and 2021, while 41.8% lost residents (8 counties, or 0.3%, saw no change population). Worryingly, many large urban counties, including those that have seen impressive population growth over the past decade, have shrunk between 2020 and 2021. Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, grew by nearly 4 million people, or 15.9%, between 2010 and 2020. But the county recorded a loss of almost 5,000 inhabitants between 2020 and 2021.
Amid this demographic shift, international migration has played an important role in helping sustain the growing population of the United States. New census figures show that 71% of counties had more immigrants coming from abroad than leaving. Despite this overall net positive result, the number of people immigrating to the United States between 2020 and 2021 plunged to its lowest level in the last decade, with only 245,000 people migrating from abroad. By comparison, between 2011 and 2018, at least double that number, or 500,000, new immigrants arrived each year.
As a result, in many parts of the country, international migration has helped offset population declines, but has not been significant enough to completely reverse the trend. In large urban areas that typically attract large numbers of immigrants, such as New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, data suggests that losses from urban dwellers moving to suburbs and small towns have not been offset by new immigrants this year, as they have been in the past.
Digging deeper, we also find that 40 counties would have experienced population losses without the new international migrants. These counties include several major cities, including New Haven, Connecticut, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, although they represent only a small fraction of all US counties. In New Haven County, Connecticut alone, the population is reported to have declined by nearly 1,000 people, rather than holding its population stable.
These numbers reveal that new immigration remains a key component of population growth and stability in the United States, perhaps more so now than ever, given recent national demographic trends. Although alarming, it is important to note that 2020-2021 has indeed been an abnormal period dominated by a pandemic causing global, economic and social disruption.
The silver lining is that slowing US population growth could be reversed if migration patterns eventually return to pre-pandemic levels. The sharp decline in international migration is the combined result of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictive immigration policies implemented by the Trump administration. With the lifting of COVID-19 mitigation measures in the United States and much of the world, the Biden administration must now work to seriously restart our legal immigration system so that people who qualify required to come to the United States under current law can do so effectively. and so that we can begin to reverse current demographic trends before it is too late.
FILED UNDER: population growth