The Pew Research Center has released a new report that projects the U.S. population will reach 441 million in 2065 – an increase of 117 million from the current number. Over the next 50 years, Pew projects that 88 percent of this increase will be due to immigration. The Pew report is noteworthy because it demonstrates just how much immigration is contributing to population growth in the United States, both directly and through the descendants of immigrants. This latter component is often overlooked in discussing demographic trends because the United States has birthright citizenship, so that all children born to immigrants automatically become U.S. citizens. Simply comparing the native-born and foreign-born populations can obscure the extent to which immigration drives population growth.
The Pew report centers on the changes made to U.S. immigration law by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act), and the demographic shifts that have occurred due to those changes. Since 1965, 59 million immigrants have arrived in the United Sates, and the foreign-born population now stands at 14 percent, up from 5 percent in 1965. If current trends hold, the foreign-born population will reach 78 million in 2065, or 17.7 percent of the total population.
The report also estimates what the U.S. population would be today without the changes in 1965, which were supposed to allow greater opportunity for non-Europeans to immigrate to the United States but were not supposed to increase overall immigration levels. If the promises made in 1965 had been kept and immigration levels had remained consistent with historical levels, the U.S. population would now stand at 252 million, 72 million less than its current size.
There have been notable changes to the demographic makeup in America since 1965. The Hispanic population has increased from 4 percent in 1965 to its current 18 percent of the total population. This is, of course, due to high levels of immigration –both legal and illegal – from Mexico, and more recently from Central America. The pace of immigration from Central America has slowed, and this is reflected in Pew’s projection that immigrants from Asia will become the largest group of foreign-born at 38 percent in 2055, and the Asian population in the United States will increase from from 6 percent in 2015 to 14 percent in 2065. Statistics regarding immigration from Asia can be confusing, since the geographical region “Asia” as defined by the Census Bureau includes areas more commonly separated into East and South Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and the Middle East by many Americans. The increase in immigrants from Asia will mostly be due to the increase of immigration from China and India, according to Pew’s projections.
One of the arguments for mass immigration following the Baby Boom (1944-1964) has been that it will prevent an “ageing crisis” in America and save Social Security for future generations. This simply isn’t true. Without the post-1965 immigration increases, Pew estimated that the median age in the United States would today be 41 years instead of 38 years. Without future immigration, the median age in 2065 would be 45 years, only three years older than the projected 42 years, despite Pew’s estimate that the foreign-born population would reach historically high proportions. This is a negligible difference and, as demographer Jeffrey Passel, one of the study’s authors, points out, “It doesn't fix the demography of an aging society…”.
What immigration does profoundly effect is the labor market. As Passel explains, “It makes a difference in the growth in the labor force.” This is why NumbersUSA continues to fight for sensible immigration levels, because greatly expanding the size of the labor market through immigration drives down wages and drives up unemployment. Immigration is a plus for America as long as levels are moderate and consistent with the interest of U.S. citizens and legal residents already here. A U.S. immigration system that successfully assimilates the foreign-born into American society makes numbers a priority. As Roy Beck said in a USA Today story on the Pew report, If you want to have a good situation for immigrants, there's a threshold that you’ve got to keep it below.”
Projecting U.S. demographics trends forward 50 years is difficult. A lot can change over the course of five decades, as immigration patterns can shift, birth-rates in the U.S. can change, and the economy will fluctuate. But it is even more difficult to envision a scenario where immigration between now and 2065 will not continue to contribute overwhelmingly to U.S. population growth unless current immigration laws are changed.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Oct 12th 2015 @ 12:50pm EDT