Thursday, March 15, 2018

Surprises in the 2017 Population Projections

The Census Bureau's new population projections (vintage 2017) are interesting for a number of reasons—slowing growth, the aging of the population, the decline in non-Hispanic Whites, and minorities becoming the majority. Also interesting is how they differ from the previous projection series, produced in 2014. A look at how the bureau revised its estimates of births, deaths, and net international migration reveals the unexpected trends reshaping us now.
  • The population is growing more slowly than expected. The size of the American population in the future will be less than what the Bureau had projected just a few years ago, and the differences will pile up quickly. The 2020 population will be smaller by 2 million than what the bureau projected for that date in its 2014 vintage projections. In 2060, the population will be 13 million less than the previous projection for that year (404 million versus 417 million). 
  • Women will have fewer babies than expected. Compared to the 2014 projection series, the latest series forecasts 3 million fewer births during the 2017 to 2060 time period. The ongoing baby bust and reduced immigration are behind the muted births. Overall, the annual number of births is forecast to rise from about 4 million today to 4.38 million in 2060. The earlier projection series forecast 4.52 million births a year by 2060. 
  • Fewer immigrants will come to the United States. Compared to the 2014 projection series, the latest series projects 14 million fewer net international migrants over the 2017 to 2060 time period. Even this smaller projected number of migrants may be too optimistic because it does not take into account Trump administration policies that could further curb immigration. The annual net number of international migrants is forecast to be about 1.1 million during most of the 2017 to 2060 period, down from the 1.3 to 1.5 million previously projected.
  • Fewer deaths will occur during the forecast period. Compared to the 2014 series, the bureau projects 5 million fewer deaths during the 2017 to 2060 time period. This makes sense since the population will be smaller. The annual number of deaths is projected to rise from 2.7 million today to 3.9 million by 2060—less than the projected 4.1 million annual deaths by 2060 in the earlier projection series. But this forecast of fewer deaths may be overly optimistic. According to Tom Lawler, a housing economist writing in Calculated Risk, the latest mortality projections do not incorporate the recent increase in deaths among young and middle-aged adults. Indeed, the bureau assumes rising life expectancy for all groups rather than the decline of the past two years. 
If the number of immigrants is further reduced by Trump's policies, and if there are more deaths than predicted, then U.S. population growth over the next few decades may be even slower than forecast by the new projections.

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the Census Bureau's 2017 National Population Projections

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