- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

The U.S. Census Bureau says it expects the nation’s population to reach 300 million on Tuesday, 39 years after the 200 million mark was reached and 91 years after the county’s population hit 100 million.

The 300 millionth person will enter a country that’s much different than it was in 1967, when Life magazine designated the birth of Robert “Bobby” Ken Woo Jr. as a population milestone, naming him the nation’s 200-millionth resident.

“In 1970, immigrants constituted less than 5 percent of the U.S. population,” said William Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan and the Brookings Institution, adding that today, they are 12.1 percent.

When the population reached 200 million on Nov. 20, 1967, there was no accurate tally of Hispanics in the United States. The first effort to count them came in the 1970 census, which found a total U.S. population of 203 million and 9.6 million Hispanics. There are about 43 million Hispanics in the country today, according to the Census Bureau.

The United States “was not a melting pot” when the 200-millionth American arrived, Mr. Frey said. “But we’re now becoming a new melting pot.”

Carl Haub, a senior demographer with the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), agreed.

The American melting pot disappeared after the 1920s and did not return until well after the government “liberalized its immigration laws in 1965 and stopped discriminating against those from areas other than Europe.”

The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 did away with national-origin quotas, in which 70 percent of all immigrant slots were given to natives of just three countries — the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an organization that opposes unbridled immigration.

In fact, sharp increases in immigration started in the mid-1980s and have continued since.

“The 1990s had the biggest increases in numbers of immigrants” of any of the previous six decades, Mr. Frey said.

Although the Census Bureau says the newest population milestone will be reached at about 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, it is “not going to make an attempt to identify the 300-millionth person,” spokesman Robert Bernstein said. The bureau also did not identify the 100- millionth American, who was born in 1915.

He said there is no way to know whether the 300-millionth person will be a baby born in this country, an immigrant who arrives here by plane or an illegal alien who surreptitiously crosses the border from Mexico.

The Census Bureau based its estimate of when the U.S. population will reach 300 million on the expectation that the nation will register one birth every seven seconds and one death every 13 seconds, while net international migration is expected to add one person every 31 seconds. The result is an increase in the total population of one person every 11 seconds.

The United States will join China and India as the third country to be home to at least 300 million people.

For weeks, Mr. Frey has predicted that the “300-millionth person will be a Hispanic male born to immigrant parents in Los Angeles County on October 17.”

Mr. Frey bases his prediction on the fact that Hispanics are driving the population increase the nation is experiencing.

Why Los Angeles County?

“Half of the growth in the United States is Hispanic, and Hispanics have made their greatest gains in Los Angeles County, California,” he said.

Both he and Mr. Haub predicted the child will be male because, worldwide, the proportion of male births to female births is 5 percent higher.

However, Mr. Haub said the PRB thinks the 300-millionth person is “most likely to be a white non-Hispanic male,” since non-Hispanic whites still constitute nearly 70 percent of the total U.S. population. That proportion is down from 83 percent in 1967.

“The U.S. population is growing by 2.8 million yearly, and Hispanics account for 1.3 million of that growth. But there are 2.3 million births in the majority population annually, and only 900,000 births among Hispanics. So it’s more likely the 300-millionth person will be a white non-Hispanic,” he said.

But white non-Hispanic Americans will lose their majority by 2050, when they will make up one-half of the total population and minorities will account for the other half, Mr. Bernstein said. By that time, he said, Hispanics will account for about a quarter of the U.S. population.

Many were shocked in 1967 when Life magazine designated Mr. Woo, a fourth-generation Chinese-American, as the 200-millionth American.

The Census Bureau had predicted the 200-millionth American would arrive between 10:58 a.m. and 11:02 a.m. Nov. 20 of that year.

Life said it dispatched 23 teams of reporters and photographers to stake out hospitals in 22 cities to await the birth. Mr. Woo, now a Harvard-educated lawyer, was born at an Atlanta hospital at 11:03 a.m., so his birth came closest to the predicted time.

But Mr. Frey said he “never bought” Life’s choice, arguing that it should have been a white suburban boy, given the demographics of the time. Census data indicate that whites constituted nearly 89 percent of the population in 1960, a total that included Hispanics. But supporters of Life’s pick note that Mr. Woo did grow up in the suburbs.

As for the nation’s new population landmark, Mr. Frey said, “More important than the numbers are how we got there, which was through immigration and increased fertility.”

The United States is unusual among many developed countries in that it consistently has an excess of births over deaths. Immigration is also a contributing factor, because so many of the Hispanic women entering this country are of child-bearing age, and they tend to have more children than other women.

One-fifth of all children younger than 18 in this country are either foreign-born or in a family where at least one parent was foreign-born, according to a PRB report. Nearly half of all children younger than 5 are members of a racial or ethnic minority, and such children are much more likely to live in poverty. Black and Hispanic youngsters top the list, with a third of black children and 28 percent of Hispanics living below the poverty line, the report found.

Mr. Frey said he is grateful to see the increased immigration, because it is bringing both “younger and more diverse” populations to this country at a time when “our own population is growing older.” By 2030, he said, “12 [percent] to 20 percent of the population will be seniors,” 65 and older.

But not everyone thinks the 300 million population marker is a reason to celebrate.

“Americans are not pleased with the rate of population growth,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates lower immigration.

A national survey of 1,000 likely voters that his group conducted in September “reveals great discomfort about the rapid U.S. population growth being caused by federal immigration policies,” according to a statement from NumbersUSA.

The poll showed that about two-thirds think increased population will “negatively impact the quality of life in America, such as causing more congestion, overcrowding and pollution,” the group said.

The survey also showed that America’s largest population groups — whites, blacks and Hispanics — are worried about the Census Bureau’s forecast that the nation’s population will grow by another 100 million by 2043.

According to the survey, Hispanics, by a ratio of 6-to-1, said their quality of life would be negatively affected if that happens in the next 50 years. The ratio was 9-to-1 for blacks and whites. Fewer than 12 percent of respondents said they thought the projected population growth would have a positive effect on their lives.

CIS spokesman John Keeley said none of that surprises him.

“Things are already pretty dire,” he said. “Look at circumstances right here in the D.C. area: the horrible rush hours, the high cost of housing, the crowded conditions in schools and the increased job competition.

“Immigration, legal and increasingly illegal, have detrimental roles in this exploding population,” Mr. Keeley said.

“Rapid population growth is creating a host of societal concerns; yet it is not even being acknowledged [by policy-makers] beyond this 300 million figure,” he said.

The result, Mr. Keeley said, is a “population density so stultifying you can’t move.”

In its report, “The United States at 300 Million,” the PRB warns: “If current poverty rates for minority children continue unabated in the future, then the health and well-being of substantial numbers of children may be compromised.”

Mr. Keeley said it’s already time to worry about the nation’s staggering growth. “We need agriculture, but unchecked growth is putting stress on natural resources. This means we will increasingly confront an inability to provide food.”

• Reporter Eric Pfeiffer and researcher John Sopko contributed to this article.


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