(October 2006) The U.S. is set to reach a milestone this month: It will become the third country, after China and India, to be home to at least 300 million people. Why is this milestone significant? What are the most important changes since the 1960s, as the United States saw a decline in household size, rise in women’s labor force participation, increase in education, and growth in the number of foreign-born people?

During a PRB Discuss Online, Linda Jacobsen, director of domestic programs at PRB, answered participants’ questions about the U.S. reaching a population of 300 million.

Oct. 11, 2006 10 AM (EST)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Dave W.: Will building a 700 mile fence on the Texas border slow down the rate of population growth?
Linda Jacobsen: No, not in the short term. Hispanics in the U.S.(especially Mexicans) have higher fertility rates than non-Hispanic whites. Even if no additional immigrants came across the border in the next few years, population would continue to grow in the U.S. because of this built-in momentum of higher fertility.

Brad Bowen: How many of the 300 million are adults?
Linda Jacobsen: Approximately 75% are ages 18 or older and 25% are children younger than 18.

Michelle: Where will the 300 millionth person be born and how can this be determined? Thanks!
Linda Jacobsen: There really is no way to determine who the exact 300 millionth American is or where they will be born because the U.S. does not have a system that tracks the population in real time, i.e. records each birth as it happens, each death as it happens, and counts each person who enters and leaves the U.S. at each instant. Even the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock is just an estimate.

Thomas Giglio: Is there a bigger or smaller share of children in poverty now than there was when the U.S was at $200 million? Have poverty rates decreased in general?
Linda Jacobsen: The share of children in poverty today (18%) is actually slightly higher than it was in 1967(17%), when the U.S. reached 200 million in population. Trends in poverty rates since the late 1960s have varied by age group. Poverty rates among the elderly (65+) have declined since 1967 from 30% down to 10% today. Poverty rates for people under age 65 generally declined until the mid 70s, and then rose across the 1980s, and then declined again across the 1990s. However, poverty rates for children and adults age 18 to 64 rose slightly after 2000.

Issa Almasarweh: What proportion of current U.S population are foreign-born and what will be the implications of this on social integration, ethnic composition and US immigration policy?
Linda Jacobsen: About 12 percent of the current U.S. population is foreign-born. Immigration is certainly contributing to the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population. The share of the population who will be Asian and the share who will be Hispanic is projected to double between 2000 and 2050. As far as the implications for social integration, it is important to note that the share of the population that was foreign-born was higher (13 – 15%) during the whole period from 1860 to 1920 than it is today. One pattern that is different today is that immigrants are increasingly dispersed in communities across the U.S.

Jerome: What are the major environmental health implications of population increases?
Linda Jacobsen: Population growth in the U.S. is having an impact on the environment. Land is currently developed at twice the rate of population growth, and some of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. are in the driest areas in the West, which has an impact on water resources. Air pollution is still a problem in many metropolitan areas in the U.S., and research shows poor air quality may play a role in increased health problems among children and the elderly. The U.S. already consumes 25% of the world’s energy, and the U.S. is the single largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world. These topics are treated in more detail in the recent report, “U.S. National Report on Population and the Environment” from the Center for Environment and Population.

Jean-Frederic Tremblay: Do you see the exceptional growth rate of the U.S. (by western standards) as a factor lessening the negative economic and fiscal effects of population ageing? On this issue, do you thing the U.S. are in a better posture than the rest of the developed countries?
Linda Jacobsen: Increases in population are one factor that could potentially help to mitigate the economic and fiscal strains of a burgeoning elderly population. However, the extent to which this happens will depend to some extent on whether future cohorts of children are enabled to develop to their full potential. An increasing share of children are members of racial and ethnic minorities, and these children often fare worse than non-Hispanic whites on almost every measure of well-being (health, economic, etc.). Levels of education among blacks and Hispanics have risen, but still lag behind those of non-Hispanic whites. If the U.S. increases opportunities for minority children and reduces disparities in well-being then these future generations may be more productive workers and better able to support the growing elderly population. The U.S. is in a better position than the rest of the developed countries IF the U.S. invests appropriately to develop the full potential of all members of the population.

Yanyi K. Djamba: Yes, the U.S. is reaching 300 million on October 11, 2006. Now that the fertility is below the replacement level, what are the prospects for population growth?
Linda Jacobsen: The population of the U.S. is projected to continue to grow, but not as fast as it did across the 1990s. It is important to note that fertility rates are not below replacement levels for all sub-groups in the U.S. population. For example, the total fertility rate among all Hispanic women is 2.8 children, and among Mexican women is 2.9 children.

Leo Estrada: It is sometimes more important to focus on the distribution rather than just the raw numbers. Could reaching 300 million result in a more dispersed distribution?
Linda Jacobsen: Yes, it is very important to focus on the geographic distribution of the population, not just on the overall size. Population growth in the U.S. since 1970 has been more heavily concentrated in the South and West than in the Midwest and the Northeast. In fact, the West surpassed the Northeast in total population back in 2000, and is projected to overtake the Midwest region before 2030. The South will continue to have the largest population of any region through 2030. The population is also becoming more concentrated in metropolitan areas, especially in the suburbs. Fifty percent of all Americans currently reside in the suburbs of metropolitan areas.

Sam Roberts: When are we scheduled to hit 400 million?
Linda Jacobsen: The Census Bureau currently projects that the U.S. will hit 400 million in 2043.

Bruno: Is the population increasing proportionally across different ethnic groups? If not which group is increasing faster and which one is slowing down? What are the feature social and economic consequences of the variations?
Linda Jacobsen: No, the share who are non-Hispanic white has decreased from 80 percent in 1980 to 67 percent today, and will decrease to half by 2050. The share who are Hispanic more than doubled from 6 to 13% between 1980 and 2000 and is projected to reach 24% by 2050. The share who are Asian is also projected to double by the year 2050. On social and economic impacts, see my answer to an earlier question on the impacts on the child population.

Bill: Is information about population in the US and around the world important enough to make it into the core middle school and high school curricula in this era of emphasis on basic educational content and skills? If so, how can teachers do this?
Linda Jacobsen: Yes, lesson plans on PRB’s website are very popular with middle and high school teachers, and the analysis of population dynamics can be effectively used to teach basic math and reading skills that are the focus of educational standards testing. These lesson plans can be found on the Educators page on PRB’s website.

Ashley: Could you talk a bit about some of the ways the population has changed since 1967?
Linda Jacobsen: We described a number of these important changes in the article on our website, “The U.S. at 300 Million.” You can read it at www.prb.org/TheUnitedStatesat300Million.

Lacey Grummons: How fast is the U.S. population increasing as compared to other countries throughout the world?
Linda Jacobsen: The U.S. is growing faster than any other industrialized country in the world, but slower than most developing countries, including India and China.

Royce Fincher: What is the percentage of our nation’s growth that is attributable to immigrants and their descendants. (I’ve heard different numbers, doubtlessly because of how rapidly immigrants become reproductive and how many generations are included when you state “their descendants.”)
Linda Jacobsen: According to the Pew Hispanic Center, immigrants and their descendants accounted for 55% of the increase in U.S. population since 1967.