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November 2006
Population Growth – Boom or Doom?
By John Paul Galles

Last month, the United States Census Bureau estimated that the U.S. population exceeded 300 million individuals. It was only 39 years before that the U.S. population reached 200 million people in 1967. According to the Census Bureau, one American is born every seven seconds, one dies every 13 seconds, and one immigrant arrives every 31 seconds. When you add those together, our population grows one person every 11 seconds. At this pace, it will take us 37 years to reach 400 million people in the United States. 

We also learned from the Charlotte Observer’s analysis of Census Bureau data that the Charlotte region grew by approximately 80,000 new residents within the last year.

During the last 39 years, much of America’s growth came from baby-boomers and the postwar years. During the next 37 years, population growth will expand largely as a result of immigration. According to the Center for Environment and Population, an independent research body, demographic trends suggest that the American population is shifting from the Northeast to the south and west. North Carolina is one of the ten fastest growing states in the U.S. The influx of people from the north and east is clearly evident from local and regional analysis of population growth. Since 1970, nearly 84 percent of population growth has occurred in the south and west.

While growth stimulates greater economic activity, growth also taxes our public systems.  Expanded housing, schools, roads, transportation systems, water and power supplies as well as sewers, waste removal and treatment systems will need to match that population growth. As a result, taxes will also grow to pay for the expansion of those systems. Even the air we breathe and the environment we enjoy will be affected by that growth.

By the year 2050, it is estimated that we will have 420 million citizens.  By 2030, the 65-and-over population will be about 20 percent of the total, up from 12 percent in the year 2000. That means that we will have huge increases in the costs of Social Security and Medicare.

An annual migration rate of one million will also transform our population. By 2050, Hispanic Americans will be about 25 percent of the total, about double their share from 2000. Asian Americans will also double to about 8 percent by 2050. Non-Hispanic whites will drop from 69 percent to around 50 percent. African Americans will remain at about 14 percent.

Are these changes good or will they have a negative impact on our nation and our quality of life? Unless or until we confront immigration in an aggressive manner, the numbers will not change. Unless or until we confront our concerns about Social Security, Medicare and health care costs, the costs will not change. Unless or until we change the way we produce energy and divide our water resources, we will witness the costs of power and water becoming exorbitant.

Historically, the United States experienced a dramatic growth from in-migration from Western Europe between 1790 and 1870 and from Eastern and Southern Europe between 1870 and 1925, predominantly from Polish and Italian origins. Fears about immigration abounded, but the diversity that was created has become an important element to our culture and our communities.

The current debate about immigration will continue. There are no simple solutions. We seem to be ready and willing to accept more immigration as these workers contribute to our economy. At the same time, immigration is creating more social concerns. In fact, many Hispanic workers are poor and have few skills. Their weekly wages average ($389) are about two-thirds the average of all workers ($577). How they assimilate and move to the middle class is an important question to confront in the coming years.

It is important to remember that our national character and our culture have changed dramatically over time. Nevertheless, Americans have maintained a spirit of enterprise, a strong religious heritage and a patriotism that keeps us united against adversity. As our population changes, we need to build upon that foundation of values to stay strong and preserve prosperity.

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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