For America’s future population, how much is too much?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

While some have called for a U.S. population of one billion and many continue to push for an ever-increasing national population without specifying an upper limit, others are recommending a gradual stabilization of America’s population.

America currently has 333 million citizens: triple the number from a century ago. The U.S. population is currently the world’s third-largest after China at 1.44 billion and India at 1.39 billion. 

Although the U.S. population is expected to increase to 400 million around mid-century, Nigeria is projected to overtake it by that time. In addition, Nigeria is expected to remain third throughout the 21st century, with America being in fourth place followed closely by Pakistan. 

Basically, there are two ways for America to increase its population size. One is through higher fertility rates that would result in substantially more births than deaths. The second is to increase the current levels of immigration to the U.S.  

Regarding the fertility rate, in 2020, America was approximately one-half of a child below the replacement level, or, 1.64 births per woman. Although that fertility rate is a record low for America, it is similar to the levels of most developed countries and many developing countries.  

Also, the U.S. fertility rate has been on a downward trend over the past 60 years and today is less than half the rate it was in 1960. Given this trend and the family size preferences of U.S. couples, America’s fertility rate is unlikely to reach the replacement level any time soon, despite calls for more American babies and fear-mongering about an imminent U.S. population collapse

Consequently, if America’s population is to grow in the future, as many are advocating, it will need to rely on immigration. If immigration were to stop, America’s population is projected to remain basically unchanged by mid-century and nearly 10 percent smaller, or 301 million, by the close of the 21st century. 

However, with a net immigration level of about 1.1 million annually per the U.S. Census Bureau’s main series projection, America’s population, despite its below-replacement fertility rate, continues to increase and is expected to reach 405 million by 2060. 

A higher level of net immigration to America than what is currently being assumed seems likely, especially given today’s high levels of illegal migration. In the fiscal year 2021, more unauthorized migrants, nearly 1.7 million,  were apprehended than in all previous years. Also, the current “catch and release” policy is contributing to the more than 11 million unauthorized migrants now living in the country.  

For America’s population to reach close to one billion by mid-century, it would require a tenfold increase in the number of immigrants assumed in the Census Bureau projections. This would mean a net immigration flow of more than 10 million migrants each year over the coming decades. 

Under that assumption, America’s population would be one billion by 2060. If that immigration continued, the population would be 1.6 billion by the close of the 21st century, making it the world’s largest population at that time. The second and third largest populations in 2100 would be India and China at 1.4 and 1.1 billion, respectively. 

It is important to recognize that the continued growth of population, as some are recommending for America, is basically Ponzi demography. It is a demographic pyramid strategy for interminable population growth that benefits some people at the expense of human wellbeing and sustainability. 

Many U.S. government officials, economists, business leaders and others are calling for increased population growth via greater immigration for the country. They contend that high rates of population growth are essential for America’s economic growth, the nation’s dynamism and continued prosperity, as well as for its geopolitical leadership and military power. 

They also argue that many people around the world would like to migrate to the U.S. and should therefore have an opportunity to do so. However, the majority of Americans, approximately 62 percent, are not in favor of increased immigration. Most voters wish to maintain or decrease the current levels of U.S. immigration.  

In addition, those calling for increased U.S. population growth typically ignore environmental concerns, including climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, congestion and pollution. Their analyses focus nearly exclusively on GDP growth, profits, taxes, labor force, politics, cultural leadership and power. In addition, they are either unable or unwilling to specify when America’s rapid population growth will stop. 

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future submitted a report to the U.S. president and Congress. That was the only time the president and Congress ever created a commission to study population growth and its impact on America’s future. 

After several years of concentrated efforts, the commission “concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the nation’s population, rather, the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the nation’s ability to solve its problems.” 

The commission also said population growth was a major factor affecting domestic demand for resources and the deterioration of the environment. Slower population growth, including less legal immigration and stopping illegal immigration, would reduce pressures on the environment and the depletion of resources as well as gain time to find solutions to the nation’s problems. The conclusions of the commission continue to remain true. 

In brief, slower rates of U.S. population growth, with the goal of gradually moving to population stabilization, will make it far easier and less costly for America to deal with climate change and environmental degradation, as well as other major challenges facing the nation.  

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”

Tags Demography Fertility Human overpopulation Immigration to the United States Population population decline Population ecology Total fertility rate Zero population growth
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