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International migration is projected to surpass natural increase (births minus deaths) as the principal driver of U.S. population growth by the middle of this century, according to three new series of population projections released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. This scenario would mark the first time that natural increase was not the leading cause of population increase since at least 1850, when the census began collecting information about residents' country of birth. The shift in what drives U.S. population growth is projected to occur between 2027 and 2038, depending on the future level of international migration.
"Our nation has had higher immigration rates in the past, particularly during the great waves of the late 19th and early 20th centuries," said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau's senior adviser. "This projected milestone reflects the mix of our nation's declining fertility rates, the aging of the baby boomer population and continued immigration."
The three new projections cover the period from 2012 to 2060. These alternative series complete the official set of 2012 National Population Projections, which began with the middle series projections released in December 2012. All four series maintain the same methodology and fertility and mortality assumptions, and differ only in the levels of net international migration they assume. They are broken out by age, sex, race and Hispanic origin.
"Projections of international migration are challenging to produce, because it is difficult to anticipate future social, political, and economic conditions and how they may influence migration into or out of the United States," notes Census Bureau demographer Jennifer Ortman. "Developing this range of alternative projections shows how differing levels of net international migration alter the pace at which the U.S. population grows, ages, and diversifies."
Higher international migration would mean a faster growing, more diverse, and younger U.S. population. The December 2012 series projected net international migration to increase from 725,000 in 2012 to 1.2 million in 2060. In contrast, the alternative measures are considerably different:
The high series projects that the U.S. population will hit 400 million by 2044, earlier than the 2051 date the December series projected. The high series also projects that the U.S. resident population will become majority-minority by 2041, two years earlier than the December projection of 2043. In other words, less than 50 percent of the population will be non-Hispanic single-race white.
The share of the population that is working age (18 to 64 years old) is projected to decrease in all four series by 2060. The high series projects the smallest decrease in the share of the population in working ages (from 62.7 percent in 2012 to 57.3 percent in 2060). The share of the working-age population would drop in the December 2012 middle series from 62.7 percent in 2012 to 56.9 percent of the total in 2060. In each of the four series (including the December 2012 projections), the population 65 and older would rise from 13.7 percent in 2012 to more than 20 percent in 2060.
The high series also projects that the minority population — all people except for those that are non-Hispanic, single-race white — would climb from 37 percent of the total in 2012 to 58.8 percent in 2060. In contrast, the U.S. minority population would reach 55.9 percent in the low series. The Asian population, 5.1 percent of the total in 2012, would reach 7.3 percent in 2060 in the low series and 9 percent in the high series. Similarly, the Hispanic population was 17 percent of the total in 2012 and is projected to reach 29.9 percent in 2060 in the low series and 31.3 percent in the high series.
Unless otherwise specified, the statistics refer to the population who reported a race alone. Censuses and surveys permit respondents to select more than one race; consequently people may be one race or a combination of races. The detailed tables show statistics for the resident population by "race alone" and "race alone or in combination."
The federal government treats Hispanic origin and race as separate and distinct concepts. In surveys and censuses, separate questions are asked on Hispanic origin and race. The question on Hispanic origin asks respondents if they are of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin. Starting with the 2000 Census, the question on race asked respondents to report the race or races they consider themselves to be. Hispanics may be of any race. Responses of "Some Other Race" from the 2010 Census were modified for these projections. This results in differences between the population for specific race categories in these projections versus those in the original 2010 Census data.