Number of Americans expected to hit 400 million by 2051, led by more immigrants

While a new Census projection shows the birth-rate slowing, immigration-related growth is expected to account for nearly two-thirds of the population increase.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Theresa Kumazah, of Ghana, wears a SpongeBob SquarePants costume as she takes the Oath of Allegiance during a Halloween-themed naturalization ceremony in Baltimore.

The number of people in the United States will reach 400 million by 2051, according to new projections from the Census Bureau. Immigration-related growth is expected to account for nearly two-thirds of the increase.

Although prior Census reports have had a similar forecast for the US population by mid-century, the composition of the expected growth has shifted.

Compared with a 2012 forecast, less of the growth is expected to be based on “natural increase” through births. The 2014 report, released Wednesday, finds most of the growth rooted in immigration. Yet, in a seeming paradox, the report also reduces projections for the growth of America’s Hispanic population.

How’s that?

Part of the explanation may be that migration from Mexico has cooled noticeably since the recession of 2007 to 2009. Declining birth rates in Mexico, coupled with an improving economy there, have reduced the number of people expected to migrate from Mexico to the US, says Mark Lopez, director of  Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center in Washington. 

At the same time, overall “net migration” – the balance of people entering the US minus people departing – remains strong. 

“Now we have more new immigrants arriving from Asia than from Latin America,” Mr. Lopez says.

And America’s Hispanic population is still growing very fast. All that’s changed is that the projected clip is a bit less rapid than the Census had forecast in 2012. 

Some key details from the Census report:
 Overall population: The new long-term projection calls for the US population to go from 319.4 million today to 398.3 million in 2050 and 400.1 million the year after that. It would reach 417 million by 2060, the final year encompassed in the research.

Pace of growth: The Census demographers expect the annual pace of growth to generally slow during that period, from about 0.8 percent a year now to 0.45 percent a year in 2045 and subsequent years through 2060.

New births: Nearly 152 million births are expected in the US between now and 2050, according to the Census analysis. This projection is 11 million fewer than were seen as of 2012, for the same 35-year period.

A key reason for the downshift: the Census Bureau has rolled out new forecasting methods designed to better account for the differing fertility rates of native- and foreign-born women. (Another side of the population forecasts, death projections, haven’t changed much since 2012.) 

Immigration: In all, the US population is expected to be some 49 million larger by 2050 due to the influx of immigrants from around the world (minus outflows of people leaving the US). This “net international migration” has been revised upward since the 2012 report, by about 10 million people.

Hispanic share: The growing Latino population remains a dominant demographic trend, driven both by immigration and higher fertility rates. The new Census projections envision the Hispanic population growing by 49 million between now and 2050, compared to growth of just 28 million for the non-Hispanic population. By mid-century, that would bring the Hispanic population to nearly 106 million, or 26.5 percent of the population.

Back in 2012, Census projections had pegged the Hispanic population to be about 5 million higher by mid-century than what’s seen in the new report.

The report comes as immigration has emerged as a top source of controversy in federal politics.

In a budget measure moving on Capitol Hill this week, for example, immigration-related funds are the exception to the overall plan to fund government programs through September 2015. Republicans hope to visit the question of immigration policy early next year, to push back against what they call President Obama’s “executive amnesty” policy toward many unauthorized immigrants.

On the one hand, opinion polls show many Americans are concerned about border security and preventing unauthorized immigration – a standpoint championed by Republicans in Congress.

On the other hand, the preference of many immigrant groups for the Democratic Party means that Republicans face pressure over the longer term to broaden their appeal beyond white voters.

“These population projections point to a diversifying electorate” and a diversifying nation, says Mr. Lopez at the Pew Research Center.

The implications of the demographic outlook are also economic, as well as political and cultural. The US will have a higher share of young people than many other advanced nations, like Japan and Germany. That promises to provide some cushion against the costs of caring for a rising number of retirees. 

In the US in 2050, there will 74 people at ages considered “dependent” (younger than 18 or older than 64) for every 100 working-age people.

That “dependency ratio” of 74 isn’t much different from where it stood in 1970. But where most dependents in 1970 were young people, the mix in 2050 will be more evenly divided, concludes a separate Census report released this year.

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