Census shows US population growth slowest since the Depression

The count showed the lowest ten-year growth since the Depression-era 1930s.

The most recent census count showed a population shift towards the South and West as Americans seek better job opportunities and less expensive housing [File: Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press]
The most recent census count showed a population shift towards the South and West as Americans seek better job opportunities and less expensive housing [File: Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press]

The first batch of once-a-decade data from the US Census Bureau shows lower population growth in the United States than at any other time since the count began in 1790, except for the Great Depression-era 1930s.

Meanwhile, the new data from the 2010s showed the US population shifting to the South and the West.

While the data released on Monday was relatively basic – containing national and state-level population figures and details of how they affect states’ representation in Congress, it contained some surprises and pointed to some consequential trends.

The US population grew to 331 million, a 7.4-percent growth from the last census in 2010.

While that may sound like a big number, it is just barely above the 7.3-percent growth in the 1930s, a period of slowed growth rooted in the widespread poverty of the Great Depression.

The past decade’s sluggish rate had similar beginnings in the long shadow of the Great Recession following the 2008 financial crisis. The drawn-out recovery saw many young adults struggling to enter the job market, consequently delaying marriage and starting a family, dealing a blow to the nation’s birthrate.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit last year and made matters worse.

More sluggish growth ahead?

While US population growth recovered after the Great Depression, demographers are not optimistic it will pick up anytime soon.

Most forecast even slower population growth in the decades to come. Americans are getting older – the median age in the US is 38, up one year from 37 in 2010.

Immigration had been dropping even before the pandemic effectively shut it down. And many Republicans have largely turned against the idea of both legal and undocumented immigration – a new political barrier to the country growing quickly.

“Unlike the Great Depression, it’s part of a process where we’re likely to keep having slow growth,” William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, told the Associated Press news agency.

That has potentially grim consequences for the future of the US.

“The big demographic advantage the US once enjoyed over other rich nations has evaporated,” John Lettieri, president of the Economic Innovation Group, tweeted after the census data release. “Now there are more Americans 80 and older than 2 or younger.”

The great migration continues

The US also continued its 80-year-long trend of shifting to the South and the West.

Florida, Montana and North Carolina each saw enough growth to add a congressional seat, while booming Texas gained two. Colorado and Oregon also gained new seats, while Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania lost seats.

The snapshot tells a familiar story: Americans have moved out of the industrial Midwest and Northeast, chasing jobs, more affordable housing, growing new suburbs and vibrant cities.

But, strikingly, California, a longtime symbol of American expansion and possibility, was not seen as a destination for a new beginning.

California’s growth rate wasn’t enough to retain its 53-seat delegation in the House. The nation’s most populous state lost a congressional seat for the first time in its history, a fact that is already forcing debate over whether Democrats’ control of state government is to blame.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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