Saturday, December 26, 2020

Population growth grinds to a halt in 2020. Especially in the Midwest

Between the Holidays, the stimulus and the potential shutdown that's coming, you might have missed a remarkable release of data showing another reason 2020 is an extraordinary year in America.
The U.S. population grew by the smallest rate in at least 120 years from 2019 to 2020, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau — a trend that demographers say provides a glimpse of the coronavirus pandemic’s toll. Population growth in the U.S. already was stagnant over the past several years due to immigration restrictions and a dip in fertility, but coronavirus-related deaths exacerbated that lethargic-growth trend, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brooking Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.... The U.S. population grew by 0.35% from July 2019 to July 2020, an increase of 1.1 million people in a nation whose estimated population in July was more than 329 million residents, according to Census Bureau estimates. An analysis by Frey shows that it's the smallest increase this century and smaller than any in the last century as well. At the height of the Spanish flu, the growth rate from 1918 to 1919 was 0.49% — even with U.S. troops abroad during World War I. The Northeast and Midwest regions of the U.S. had tiny population declines from 2019 to 2020, while the South and West regions had slight increases.
Now this estimate isn't going to be a neat 1-for-1 match to the US Census figures that are due to be released in the next week, but it gives you a prety good idea, and Election Data Services used these new figures, and also projecte back to the April 1 numbers that the Census is based on, to see which states might gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives as maps get redrawn ahead of the 2022 midterms.
You'll notice that Wisconsin is one of the few states in the Midwest not projected to lose a seat in Congress after this year. If you go into the state-by-state estimates, it shows that we were not growing by great numbers ourselves, as we were not immune from the slowdown in population growth that happened last year or the last 10 years.
Wisconsin had enough cushion going into the 2010s to not be in danger of losing a seat, which helps explain why they are able to keep 8 seats in the House for the next decade, while Minnesota will lose one. This is despite the fact that Minnesota gained many more people in the last decade than we did, as they cut the gap in residents between the two states by 236,000 over the last 10 years.
But while we were significantly outpaced by Minnesota, Wisconsin outgained the other states it borders over those 10 years. Illinois in particular lost a lot of people over the last 7 years, and Michigan is also estimated that have lost people in 2019 and 2020.
The stagnant (and in some places) declining population of Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest is going to put a significant lid on the level of growth that can happen as the 2020s proceed. And with COVID deaths increasing since the July 1 date of these estimates, it is not inconceivable that we see even more places drop in population for next year, increasing disparities that caused the US economic recovery to be quite uneven in the latter half of the 2010s.

And if we don't reverse the record level of US deaths for 2020, increase birth rates (good luck on people in their 20s and 30s wanting to bring more kids into THIS world) or make America more attractive for immigrants than it was in the Trump era, then this country will also have limited growth. And that's not even accounting for who will (or won't) get those gains.

Let's see if the full Census figures get releaed next week, and if they match up with the estimates that we saw come out this week. Then watch the appeals, complaints and gerrymandering attempts follow!


  1. Matthew Yglesias' One Billion Americans is an interesting read about the need for greater U.S. population growth. He recommends a mixture of better family leave policies and legal immigration. It's a decent read.

    1. This is true. Demographics are a real headwind in this country's economic future, and many under-40s are putting off families because they can't afford to raise kids and/or pay for child care. Or they are facing significant economic pressures because of those costs.

      So if you have no strong safety net, the only way the economy grows us through Bubbles the eventually burst.