Demographics is destiny

“A country grows or shrinks in three ways: immigration, deaths, and births. America’s declining fertility rate often gets the headline treatment. Journalists are obsessed with the question of why Americans aren’t having more babies. And because I’m a journalist, be assured that we’ll do the baby thing in a moment. But it’s the other two factors—death and immigration—that are overwhelmingly responsible for the collapse in U.S. population growth. …

“Excess deaths accounted for 50 percent of the difference in population growth from 2019 to 2021. That’s a clear sign of the devastating effect of the pandemic. But this statistic also tells us that even if we could had brought excess COVID deaths down to zero, U.S. population growth would still have crashed to something near an all-time low. To understand why, we have to talk about the second variable in the population equation: immigration.

“As recently as 2016, net immigration to the United States exceeded 1 million people. But immigration has since collapsed by about 75 percent, falling below 250,000 last year. Immigration fell by more than half in almost all of the hot spots for foreign-born migrants, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.”

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4 thoughts on “Demographics is destiny

  1. What are the details of immigration being down so much? My understanding is that most green cards are issued either to close relatives of citizens (without quota) or due to quotas clocking people off of the innumerable queues of the immigration classification system. In neither case would I expect there to be a downturn in applicants.

    • First, there are other ways of coming here, most notably asylum, which was kept way down by Title 42. They don’t get green cards right away but they can get work authorization six months after applying. Plus, the Trump administration really gummed up the works on green card applications (e.g., their public charge rule), to say nothing of the lockdowns at various embassies and slowdown at USCIS and the immigration courts.

      • A little while ago, I checked and discovered that asylum cases are a few tens of thousands per year, while green cards are usually a million per year, so Title 42 et al. aren’t likely to have made a big difference in numbers. I expect you’re right about Trump’s changes slowing down the issuing of green cards even when they were due; even if the changes weren’t intended to reduce the number issued, any changes are going to cost the bureaucracy a bunch of work. We’re likely also suffering from a reduction in unauthorized immigration and the citizen children of unauthorized immigrants. Those latter numbers won’t show in most statistics, but they’re a drag on the population total.

        Fortunately, in some link off the article you link, the attitudes toward immigration are growing more positive.

  2. A difficulty with the article is that it doesn’t address the question of why an individual American would favor higher immigration. The article is about collective benefits. But does increased immigration help a particular individual? And I fear that depends a lot on the demographics of the individual and where they live. If there is an increase of “low-skilled” immigration (and our system tends to be biased that way), you don’t want them settling in your locality because a disproportion of social costs (especially schooling and Medicaid) will fall on you.

    It seems like there would be a political benefit if the immigration system was more oriented toward skills-based immigration, like the Canadian system.

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