Okay, in other words, the U. S. birth numbers last year will never change, nor will their composition of race, gender and ethnicity. That fact, although obvious, is very significant. For example, along with immigration estimates and other factors, critically important projections can be made for new kindergarten students in 2026, college enrollments around 2038 and future available labor pools.
These yearly statistics also help demographers advise politicians about how many individuals of which races and ethnic groups will become newly eligible to vote in future election years. Republicans have been focused on these numbers lately; it drives much of their racist, replacement conspiracy theory and paranoia over immigrants.
The phrase “Demographics are destiny.” has been attributed to the 19th Century French philosopher Auguste Comte. It suggests that much of the future is predetermined by trends in current populations, i.e., which groups are growing and where and which are receding. Population growth for the year is determined by adding the number of births, minus the number of deaths plus the number of immigrants. So, what’s going on with the birth rate in the United States?
Like almost every other well-developed country, U.S. women are having fewer babies. To some extent, this can be chalked up to women being better educated and employed, which gives them more power over their bodies and their lives. Another very significant reason, however, is the high cost of having and caring for children.
When we moved from North Carolina to Washington state, I immediately noticed many more young families with three or even four children compared to North Carolina where one or two was more typical. A study by the financial website wallethub.com suggests a reason for this, Washington was rated the 8th best state to raise a family in 2022; North Carolina was rated 37th. One of the factors influencing the rating in this study was median income. WA was rated 3rd in terms of affordability; NC was 37th, the same as its overall rating.
There can be no doubt that Biden’s Build Back Better Act would have stimulated U.S. birth rates by giving working mothers help with child care and schooling for pre-K children. It would have provided for paid family and medical leave and significant child tax credits to make having children much more affordable. Republican opposition in the Senate is the main reason this legislation failed, but West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) prevented Democrats from passing it using the narrow budget reconciliation process. Ironically, his state desperately needed this legislation. West Virginia was rated dead last in a wallethub.com study, 2022’s Best and Worst State Economies.
The low birth rates in 2021 combined with a shocking number of Americans who died. According to the census data, 2,297 U.S. counties, or over 73%, experienced more deaths than births in 2021; that’s up from 45.5% in 2019. No doubt, hundreds of thousands of coronavirus deaths caused part of this increase, but Americans also die of gun violence and drug overdoses at higher rates than citizens of other wealthy countries.
The U.S. population grew by 2 million every year from 2011 to 2017, which was still low by historical standards, and only by 1.1 million in 2020. Then, the U.S. population grew at the slowest pace in history in 2021, according to census data, adding a mere 393,000 people. Yet, even if the coronavirus deaths had not occurred, U.S. population growth in 2021 would have been historically low.
Okay, what about immigration? The number of immigrants tends to increase in good economic times. After the U.S. added almost 1.2 million lawful permanent immigrant residents in 2016, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics, the number of immigrants steadily decreased through 2019. Last year, only 245,000 immigrants were added.
The reason for this decreasing immigration is clear. Former president Trump and his administration waged open warfare on immigrants during his four years. Unfortunately, President Biden has not yet revitalized pro-immigration policies, according to a March article in The Atlantic
I think Caleb Watney, a co-founder of the Washington, D.C. think tank, Institute for Progress, correctly summed up the tremendous value of immigrants for a recent article in The Atlantic. He stated that immigrants bring patents and Nobel Prizes in droves, help America stay ahead of China by driving progress in semiconductors, artificial intelligence and quantum computing and launch nearly 50 percent of U.S. billion-dollar start-ups. Watney lamented, however, that while the rest of the world is begging international talent to come to their shores, the U.S. has been slamming the door in their face.
Watney makes a great point. Elon Musk, a U.S. citizen and the world’s richest person, was born in Pretoria, South Africa. Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, and Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, are both U.S. citizens who were born in India. Foreign-born executives like these and millions of other immigrants have been enriching our society and supercharging the U.S. economy for over two centuries.
My fascination with demographics grew after I realized how they show that the future is now. Yes, our population is aging because the U.S. has too few births, too many deaths and not nearly enough incoming immigrants. Clearly, Democrats strongly support legislation to correct these disturbing population trends. Still, I believe corporate America’s need for abundant, skilled labor, including women with children, will force even a Republican-controlled government to take action.