- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Immigration will drive U.S. population growth until, by 2050, one in five Americans will be an immigrant, the Pew Research Center said yesterday.

The Washington-based think tank also pointed out that whites will become a minority, accounting for 47 percent of the population, while the Hispanic population will triple in size, to 128 million, and double as a percentage of the American population, to 29 percent.

Meanwhile, the Asian share of the U.S. population will double to 9 percent, while the black population remains steady at 13 percent.

Overall, the population is projected to increase by 142 million — from 296 million in 2005 to 438 million in 2050 — and 82 percent of that increase will be a result of immigrants arriving and their descendants staying. According to the center’s projection, immigration’s importance has increased as the average number of births to U.S.-born women dropped sharply before leveling off.

The figures all presuppose the continuation of current birthrates and immigration numbers, though the center said, “It is possible that a future Congress will enact laws that would sharply cut immigration flows.”

It would not be the first time that the government tries to limit immigration. The Immigration Act of 1924, along with the Great Depression and the two world wars, combined to reduce the immigrant share of the U.S. population from 14.7 percent in 1910 to 4.7 percent in 1970.

Mark Mather, demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, said such immigration restrictions are most likely to happen in response to labor competition, as immigrants compete with U.S.-born citizens for jobs.

As a result, he said, big cities that offer job opportunities likely will experience the most immigration.

“The immigration tends to be concentrated in certain places,” he said. “We will tend to see rapid growth in metropolitan areas around the country.”

Another concern surrounding increased immigration, Mr. Mather said, is the reaction by the native-born to cultural and language differences, particularly in regions such as the Southeast that haven’t experienced much immigration.

Although still not sure how government policies would affect immigration trends, Mr. Mather said Washington and its suburbs will continue to grow and become more culturally diverse.

Jeff Passel, a demographer with the Pew Research Center, said that regardless of survey definitions, groups’ self-identifications are not fixed.

“If you go back 100 years in the U.S. history, there were very strict distinctions among, say, Italians, Irish, Polish and Jewish,” he said. “Well, now all their kids are white non-Hispanics.”

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