“Immigration Nation”: Pew Research Projects U.S. Population Demographics into the Future

immigrantsI’ve blogged before about the immigration issue and its potential impact on the U.S. economy and society.

Now the Pew Research Center has released a report that predicts the U.S. becoming a “no ethnic majority” nation within the next 35 years.

When one considers that the United States population was nearly 85% white Anglo in 1965 … and that percentage has dropped to about 62% now, it isn’t that hard to imagine Pew’s prediction coming true.

Here’s the trajectory Pew predicts over the coming ten-year periods:

  • 2015: ~62% estimated U.S. white Anglo population percentage
  • 2025: ~58% projected white Anglo population percentage
  • 2035: ~56% projected
  • 2045: ~51% projected
  • 2055: ~48% projected
  • 2065: ~46% projected

Perhaps what’s more intriguing is that Pew projects the largest future percentage gains will be among Asian-Americans rather than Latino or Black Americans. The Asian share of the American population is expected to double over the period:

  • 2015: ~6% estimated U.S. Asian population percentage
  • 2025: ~7% projected Asian population percentage
  • 2035: ~9% projected
  • 2045: ~10% projected
  • 2055: ~12% projected
  • 2065: ~14% projected

If these projections turn out to be accurate, the Asian population percentage is on tap to become the nation’s third highest group.

By contrast, the Hispanic population, while continuing to grow, looks as if it will level off at about 22% of the country’s population by 2045. For Black Americans, Pew projects the same dynamics at work, but at the 13% level.

citizenship ceremonyAccording to Pew’s analysis, the biggest driving force for the projected Asian population growth is immigration. By 2055, Pew expects that Asians will supplant Latinos as the largest single source of immigrants — and by 2065 the difference is expected to be substantial (38% Asian vs. 31% Latino immigrants).

Conducted in parallel with Pew’s projection analysis was an online opinion research survey of American adults (18 and over) it conducted in March and April of this year.

Among the attitudinal findings Pew uncovered were these:

  • “Immigrants in the U.S. are making society better”: ~45% of respondents agree … ~37% disagree
  • “I would like to see a reduction in immigration”: ~50% agree
  • “I would like to see the immigration system changed or completely revamped”: ~80% agree

Again, no great surprises in these figures — although if one paid attention only to news accounts in the “popular media,” one might find it surprising to learn that a plurality of Americans actually consider immigration a net positive for American society …

Additional findings from the Pew survey as well as its demographic projections can be found here.

Reading the tea leaves in the U.S. population census results.

County Population Change: 2000-2010Now that the full scope of information is being released from the latest U.S. population census, many news reports about age demographics tend to focus on the composition of families in urban areaa … the impact of immigration of all stripes … as well as the occasional article about the phenomenon of large family units in “exotic” places like rural Utah and Idaho.

Most of these news reports give the impression that age demographics are getting younger.

Don’t believe it. Instead, we can turn to the U.S. Bureau of Census’ own figures which tell a different story.

In reality, there are fewer children today in most American neighborhoods. In fact, the share of population under the age of 18 declined in ~95% of the counties since 2000.

The Bureau’s stats also show that the number of American households reporting that they have children under age 18 has remained roughly static (at ~38 million) … even while the country’s total population grew by ~10% over the decade.

As a result, the share of all U.S. households with children is only about 33%, down from ~36% ten years earlier … while the share of the U.S. population under age 18 is 24%, compared to 26% ten years earlier.

These census figures and others have become grist for many researchers in recent months, with a number of intriguing reports being issued. One, released by the Brookings Institution, focuses on the changing nature of Suburban America. Alan Berube, author of the report, notes that there is a continuing blurring of the once-sharp lines that used to demarcate central cities from the suburbs.

Instead, there now appear to be more similarities between cities and their “inner core” suburbs, rather than between inner and outer suburban communities.

Urban development guru Joel Kotkin sees this development in a larger sociological context — noting that people tend to “self-select” where they live based on “like” characteristics that go beyond mere economic elements to also include psychographic aspects.

In Kotkin’s view, that trend has contributed to the vast differences we see in political and voting behavior in cities, the suburbs, and exurbs. We may have much less overt segregation based on race or ethnic background … but it’s been replaced by a self-segregation based on perspectives and attitudes.

No wonder it seems that people are “talking past each other” — rather than engaging one another — in our national dialogue about the economy and the government’s proper role in guiding it.

Don’t look for this dynamic to change anytime soon.

It’s Official: Older Cities Take a Beating in the Latest U.S. Census

Abandoned housing stock in Flint, MI
2009 street scene in Flint, Michigan.

While there’s been evidence of significant shifts in U.S. population growth over the past decade, the decennial census performed earlier this year gives us an opportunity to learn precisely what’s been happening and end some of the “speculation.”

And now, with the U.S. Census Bureau releasing its preliminary population reports, we’re seeing how this has played out in cities across the country. While it’s true that the American population has grown pretty steadily at about 2.5 million people per year, some areas have grown much faster than others as a result of being better positioned through the education of their workforce and/or their business- and technology-friendly environments.

Alas, other areas haven’t merely stagnated, but actually lost residents because of failing industries and unattractive business climates, sparking net out-migration of their residents.

Interestingly, many of the cities in the “industrial heartland” of America have managed to stay on the positive side of population growth – even if just barely. But some cities have experienced such hardship that their populations have dropped dramatically in the past decade.

New Orleans tops the list … and who’s surprised about that? After all, Hurricane Katrina effectively robbed the city of one-third of its residents – with most of them electing not to return after establishing new livelihoods in Houston, Shreveport, and other localities further yon.

But New Orleans surely represents a “special case” if ever there was one. Other cities have suffered greatly due to their dependence on industries that took a beating over the past decade. And really, any city with a major focus on traditional manufacturing saw thousands of jobs disappear.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Census report on the nation’s largest cities — ones with 100,000+ population — the seven experiencing the biggest percentage declines in population over the past decade are:

1. New Orleans, LA – Dropped by ~129,000 to ~355,000 (-27%)
2. Flint, MI – Declined by ~13,000 to ~112,000 (-11%)
3. Cleveland, OH – Fell by ~45,000 to ~431,000 (-10%)
4. Buffalo, NY – Dropped by ~22,000 to ~270,000 (-8%)
5. Dayton, OH – Declined by ~12,000 to ~154,000 (-7%)
6. Pittsburgh, PA – Dropped by ~22,000 to ~312,000 (-7%)
7. Rochester, NY – Declined by ~12,000 to ~207,000 (-6%)

[I was a bit surprised to see Detroit missing from this list. After all, it’s the poster child for urban decay and depopulation. But Detroit’s population percentage decline was actually smaller than the cities above, and it remains the nation’s 11th largest city. However, the 2010 census will likely show that its population has fallen below 800,000 for the first time in nearly a century – and the figure is even more startling when you realize the city’s population was nearly 2 million as late as the 1950 census.]

Unfortunately, the negative implication of population declines in these proud American cities go far beyond the loss of social prestige and political clout.

Once decline sets in, it can go on for years. The loss of residents contributes to a drop in tax receipts and the subsequent curtailing of social services ranging from police and sanitation to schools and recreation. Home vacancy rates say volumes about the precarious position in which the cities above find themselves – they’re above 15% in every single case (and sometimes dramatically higher).

Confronted with such a reality, too often the result is more people fleeing the urban core, creating a continuing downward spiral that seemingly has no bottom. Representative examples of where this sorry state of affairs can end up can be found in two smaller but particularly grim urban communities: Camden, NJ and Chester, PA.

From the outside looking in, it’s difficult to accept these population reports … and it seems like people should step in and do something – anything – to arrest the decline.

And in the abstract, it’s only natural to feel that this is what should happen. But in the “real world,” who are going to be the ones to step up to the plate and expose themselves (and their families) to the harsh reality of urban pioneering?

Would I do it? Would you?

For most of us, the answer to that question falls into the “life’s too short” category.

A mobile society? We’re not there again yet.

U.S. Population MigrationLast year, I blogged about a startling development in the mobility of Americans: fewer of us moved in 2008 than in any year going back decades.

If there was any proof of the recession’s toll on the lives of many Americans, this is surely it. Not only that, it reflects the lost allure of many of the “magnet” states of recent decades, particularly Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida.

Now, new data covering 2009 have just been released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The latest information reveals that more Americans moved in 2009 than in 2008 … but it was just a small uptick.

Moreover, the increase in mobility was almost entirely the result of people moving within their home counties – nearly eight times more prevalent than migrating from state to state.

What does this mean? In many instances, intra-county mobility may be the result of people who have moved in with family or to nearby rental properties after having lost their homes to foreclosure.

And the low rates of mobility in general may reflect the unwillingness or inability of people to move because they owe more on their mortgage than their home’s current value, thanks to the collapse of the housing market.

William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, sums it up this way:

“These data show that the great migration slowdown, which began three years ago, shows no signs of revising to normal U.S. patterns. Since labor migration is often seen as the grease that spurs the flow of goods, capital and job creation, these new numbers are not encouraging.”

Mobility almost always declines during periods of economic hardship. But it’s now clearer than ever that this particular recession has caused the biggest drop in mobility rates America has seen since the days of the Great Depression.

Joel Kotkin: America’s Best Years Are Still Ahead

The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 by Joel KotkinIn the study of demographics – a field that has had its share of doomsayers over the years – the irrepressible Joel Kotkin has been a continuing voice of optimism. The Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and an authority on economic, political and social trends as well as demographics, Kotkin has also been one to defend suburbia as one of the key ingredients of successful urban development.

It’s been interesting to watch how these views have played out in relation to the predilection of many in the American elite to denigrate anything pertaining to the suburban lifestyle. In their characterization, “suburbia” is synonymous with faceless neighborhoods punctuated by numbingly similar commercial strip developments featuring cookie-cutter national chain stores and restaurants. The only difference between suburban Los Angeles and suburban Chicago is the palm trees.

The suburban mindset has also been maligned by many as being obsessed with material pursuits and economic upward mobility … and possessing little if any thinking that’s “progressive.”

As an example of this side of the debate, the publication of Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class – with its claims that metropolitan areas with high concentrations of high-tech employees, artists, musicians and gay people correlate to a higher level of economic development – articulates a theory that has been far better received by the news media and other members of the American intelligentsia.

Now, along comes Kotkin’s newest book … and with it his latest intriguing predictions. In The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, Kotkin argues that the coming 40 years will witness a resurgent America, even as the population swells by another 100 million souls. Comparing the birth rates of America to all other developed nations, along with the continued in-migration of people from other countries – particular Asian and Latin American – Kotkin contends that no other country anywhere will enjoy such ethnic diversity. And to Kotkin, youth and diversity equate with strength.

By contrast, Kotkin maintains that “most of the developed countries in both Europe and Asia will become veritable old-age homes.” Many of these nations, with their generous social safety nets, will face huge pension obligations without having younger workers to help shoulder the costs.

Kotkin’s bottom-line prediction is that Europe and Asia will decline even as America thrives. And not just economically but also culturally: “The most affluent, culturally rich and successful nation in human history.”

Kotkin also believes that the large new numbers of Americans will flock to – where else – the suburbs, which he characterizes as “the best, most practical choice for raising their families and enjoying the benefits of community.”

No doubt, there will be those who question Mr. Kotkin’s conclusions and predictions. What about the rise of China? How will illegal versus legal immigration affect social and economic trends? How about the widening gulf between the earning power of “technocrats” and the rest of the population? Not to mention the collapse of the family unit which has rendered so much of the fabric of “inner-urban” America dysfunctional at best … hopeless at worst?

Either way, this book is very interesting and helps us reappraise some of the “big trends” in social demography. The theories of Richard Florida’s “creative class” ring decidedly less compelling today, barely six or seven years on. It’s time now to consider Joel Kotkin’s interesting theories — with the same critical eye, of course.

A mobile society? Maybe not so much.

The United States has long been known as one of the most mobile societies on earth. Throughout the history of our nation, Americans have seemingly always had a major collective case of wanderlust.

This was especially true during World War II when hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women found themselves posted to places far away from home. Getting a taste of unfamiliar and interesting locations — so different from what they knew growing up — many people elected not to return home from the war.

My father, who was stationed in Alaska during World War II and was mustered out of the Army Air Corps in San Francisco/Oakland, tells of acquaintences who opted to take a small cash payout and stayed in California, rather than accept free transport back to their homes in New York, Pittsburgh, rural Alabama or wherever.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the population growth of the Mountain and Pacific States plus plentiful manufacturing jobs throughout the Midwest sparked dramatic population migrations from South to North and from East to West. Families took annual vacation road trips of 1,000 miles or more, fueled by cheap gasoline and the brand-new Interstate highway system.

Today, things look much different. According to a just-released Rasmussen poll, 90% of respondents report that they have lived in the same state for at least the past five years. And nearly three-fourths report that they’ve lived in the same state for more than 20 years.

This news comes hard on the heels of the U.S. Census Department reporting that only ~35 million people changed where they lived from March 2007 to March 2008. The Census Bureau noted that this was the lowest number recorded since 1962 — when the United States had 120 million fewer people.

More recent stats for the comparable 2008-09 period aren’t yet available, but I suspect the numbers have declined even further. If so, it will represent a big change in one of America’s most unique and defining aspects — its mobility. I wonder … is another one of America’s trademark characteristics now becoming more a myth than reality?