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NYT Writers’ Dissonance on Immigration-Driven Population Growth

author Published by Lisa Irving

Pundits advocating for increased immigration to the U.S. can find themselves at odds with their long-held policy commitments.

Dissonance often arises when they sound the alarm about issues such as growing inequality or natural resource conservation while arguing for more U.S. immigration-driven population growth.

In separate opinion pieces written this year, The New York Times columnists David Leonhardt and Farhad Manjoo expressed this dissonance by proclaiming that increased immigration-driven population growth is necessary, despite its many drawbacks.

Leonhardt (an immigration expansionist) and Manjoo (an open borders advocate) have extensively pushed for economic equality and environmental issues. Neither has written specifically about their appetites for forever-growth in labor or consumption, yet both responded very pointedly to reports of a decline in America’s population growth rate (actual population numbers continue to climb). Each concluded that population growth (immigration-driven population, in particular) was more important.


In “A Population Bust,” David Leonhardt wrote on the “upsides and downsides of slow population growth” noting that, behind a declining birthrate, “a decline in legal immigration” is the second major factor in slowing population growth.

The gains he cites that come with slower population growth include bolstering wages, declining inequality and economic opportunities for women.

Leonhardt has written extensively about the need to address these issues over the years.

  • For example, in the 2019 column “The Hard Immigration Questions” he tied inequality to immigration, writing that: “Since the 1970s, of course, immigration has surged, as has income inequality. Many other factors play a role in rising inequality… But immigration belongs on the list.”
  • Also, in the 2020 column “America Will Struggle After Coronavirus. These Charts Show Why.” Leonhardt wrote: “America’s economy has almost doubled in size over the last four decades, but broad measures of the nation’s economic health conceal the unequal distribution of gains.”
  • In the 2017 column “Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart” Leonhardt argued: “Many Americans can’t remember anything other than an economy with skyrocketing inequality, in which living standards for most Americans are stagnating and the rich are pulling away. It feels inevitable. But it’s not…Different policies could produce a different outcome.”

Yet, despite his long-held support for wage and economic equality, Leonhardt concludes in “A Population Bust” that slowed-down population growth is “probably a net negative for the U.S.” – because the U.S. needs to compete with China (an issue he has rarely addressed) and satisfy the desire of as many people as possible who want to migrate to the U.S.


In “The World Might Be Running Low on Americans,” Farhad Manjoo warns of “demographic stagnation” that could result if the U.S. population (younger working-age Americans in particular) declines.

He too writes on the benefits he sees in slower U.S. population growth, including alleviating the burdens of packed cities, decongesting traffic, reducing housing costs and conserving natural resources.

Manjoo writes much on the need to address environmental and conservation issues:

  • In the 2020 column “California, We Can’t Go On Like This,” Manjoo wrote: “ Californian suburbia, the ideal of much of American suburbia, was built and sold on the promise of endless excess — everyone gets a car, a job, a single-family home and enough water and gasoline and electricity to light up the party…But it is long past obvious that infinitude was a false promise. Traffic, sprawl, homelessness and ballooning housing costs are all consequences of our profligacy with the land and our other resources.”
  • In the 2021 column “Once Again, the Earth Is Being Wrung Dry,” Manjoo discussed: “ The American West is once again facing drought, one of the worst on record. Across a vast region encompassing nine states and home to nearly 60 million people, the earth is being wrung dry. About 98 percent of this region is currently weathering some level of drought, and more than half the land area is under extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe categories. This drought began just last year, but it is already causing severe disruptions.”

But, for all these dire environmental concerns, Manjoo ultimately contends that the U.S. needs to let in more people to advance economic growth, prosperity and innovation and to shore up retirement programs and maintain global power dominance.


Other writers have espoused the merits of slower population growth without Leonhardt’s and Manjoo’s equivocation. For example, in separate columns Joel E. Cohen with Joseph Chamie and Jane O’Sullivan with Susann Roth wrote on the benefits of slower population growth and aging populations this year.

Joel E. Cohen and Joseph Chamie countered population growth arguments for such purposes as public program contributions and global dominance in the May column “Slower Population Growth: The Goods and the Bads.” They concluded that: “A large or rapidly growing population is hardly necessary or sufficient for prosperity.”

Researcher Jane O’Sullivan and Advisor Susann Roth lauded countries with aging populations in the Asian Development Blog column “Lower birth rates and an aging population can help heal Asian economies” that was published last month.

LISA VENUS is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Media Standards Program for NumbersUSA

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