A Glimpse into the Future of America's Population
Posted on: 2010-05-12 09:55:46
And the future's not looking too bright.
Joel Kotkin’s new book on population growth in America, The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, is that rare work of futurism whose title downplays the changes in store for us. The current Census Bureau projection is not that the U.S. will grow by merely 100 million residents from 2010 to 2050, but by 129 million, from 310 million today to 439 million in 40 years.
Although he’s reluctant to be precise about what’s looming, Kotkin, a veteran commentator on social geography and a fellow at Chapman University in Orange County, assures us that the population bubble is, on the whole, very good news. “[B]ecause of America’s unique demographic trajectory among advanced countries, it should emerge by midcentury as the most affluent, culturally rich, and successful nation in human history,” he writes. “No other advanced, populous country will enjoy such ethnic diversity.”
Perhaps. Yet the U.S. already was the most successful nation in human history. In 1969, for example, a mere 203 million Americans, even without the enjoyments of much diversity, got the human race to the moon. Presumably, the 439 million highly diverse residents of the U.S. in 2050 will have reached, at minimum, Alpha Centauri.
But I’m finding it hard to share Kotkin’s enthusiasm for what he calls America’s “vibrant demography” because I’m tapping this book review out at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Van Nuys, California. My son is waiting in a 500-foot-long line to get to the first window so he can wait to get to another window, which will probably shut down for the evening before he finishes. California’s government is broke, so the DMV is closed several Fridays per month and is ostentatiously understaffed the rest of the time.
Van Nuys is in the center of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, where I grew up and where Kotkin has lived for decades. Long ago, the Valley was celebrated for making the California dream affordable to the average American, but we’ve since been test-driving America’s future. When watching all the vibrant demography at the Van Nuys DMV waiting to take their driving tests, the next 40 years appear less edifying than they do in Kotkin’s prose.
On the rare occasions when ordinary Americans are asked what they think about population growth, they are leery. A 2006 Gallup poll inquired, “In the future, do you think population growth will be—a major problem, a minor problem, or not a problem—in the United States?” “Major problem,” responded 57 percent, “minor problem,” said 26 percent, and “not a problem,” breezed 14 percent.
Unsurprisingly, elite indoctrination makes Americans more ignorant about the realities of population and immigration. Gallup noted, “In an interesting twist, Americans with less formal education are the most likely to correctly attribute population growth to immigration, while Americans with post-graduate education are least likely to do so.” Only 37 percent of people with a postgraduate degree knew what they were talking about, compared to 56 percent who had never been to college.
The real question, though, is less how bad a problem immigration-driven population growth will become but the “opportunity cost” of the forgone America—that less crowded and better educated country that we won’t be leaving to our children due to our immigration policies.
Kotkin, who leans mildly in a libertarian direction, can’t really explain why his doubly denser America is preferable. He simply assumes that his readers won’t be so uncool as to notice that illegal immigration tends to create a vast hereditary proletariat. That’s not the worst fate imaginable for America, but if the more productive will be required to subsidize the education, the policing, and now the healthcare of the less productive (which, one way or another, we shall), why would we want to continue to import millions of unskilled and highly fertile foreigners? In California in 2005, foreign-born Latinas were giving birth at the rate of 3.7 babies per lifetime (almost the same total fertility as Haiti) versus 2.2 for American-born Latinas and 1.4 for American-born Asians. Ouch.