U.S. population growth near historic lows

December 31, 2013
North Dakota's population grew by 3.1 percent last year, the highest of any state, according to new Census Bureau estimates.
North Dakota’s population grew by 3.1 percent last year, the highest of any state, according to new Census Bureau estimates.

Yesterday, we highlighted new Census numbers that show Southern and Western states, and North Dakota, growing faster than Northeastern and Midwestern states. But our colleague Carol Morello points to another nugget hidden within those Census numbers: The growth the entire country is experiencing is the slowest since the Great Depression.

The population of the United States is growing more slowly than it has since the Great Depression in what demographers say is a reflection of the recession’s lingering effects on people’s behavior.

New population estimates released Monday by the Census Bureau show the nation added about 2.2 million residents in 2013. On New Year’s Day, the census projected, the U.S. population will surpass 317 million people, a one-year increase of 0.7 percent.

The last time the nation grew at a slower pace was in the heart of the Great Depression, from 1932 to 1937, according to an analysis by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution.

The recession led more women to postpone childbirth and fewer immigrants to come seeking jobs. As a result, the nation’s growth rate, which was just shy of 1 percent as recently as 2006, began sliding after the recession began the following year. With the economic downturn officially over for four years now, some demographers expressed surprise that the population growth rate registered a decline.

“Economists think the recession is over, but it’s not, for demographic trends,” said Ken Johnson, a demographer with the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. “We should see growth going up.”

“Sure, we’re out of the recession in the way the National Bureau of Economic Research defines recession,” said Steven Ruggles, a historical demographer who is director of the Minnesota Population Center. “But that’s kind of irrelevant because of the distributional problem. The recession is not over for the vast majority of the population. It’s over for the top.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson · December 31, 2013