The Rockefeller Commission on Population Growth at 50 and What It Means for Today

Published on March 25th, 2022

It’s been 50 years since the bipartisan Commission on Population Growth and the American Future released its landmark report on population growth to President Nixon and Congress.

Commonly known as “The Rockefeller Commission Report,” after its chairman John D. Rockefeller, the report remains one of the most substantive studies on the environmental consequences of unsustainable population growth in America.

The reports warnings on population growth in the U.S. were clear:

“After two years of concentrated effort, we have concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the nation’s population, rather that the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the nation’s ability to solve its problems.”

Unfortunately, in the intervening 50 years, Congress failed to act on virtually any part of the report, including recommendations the commission made on immigration, the single largest driver of population growth in America.

The Commission believes that it is imperative for this country to address itself, first, to the problems of its own disadvantaged and poor. The flow of immigrants should be closely regulated until this country can provide adequate social and economic opportunities for all its present members, particularly those traditionally discriminated against because of race, ethnicity, or sex.”

The report also addressed the issue of illegal immigration. 

“The Commission recommends that Congress immediately consider the serious situation of illegal immigration and pass legislation which will impose civil and criminal sanctions on employers of illegal border-crossers or aliens in an immigration status in which employment is not authorized.”

In the 50 years since the Rockefeller report was released America’s population has increased by nearly 120 million and the effects of unsustainable population growth are clear. More competition for jobs has meant stagnated wages, millions of acres of wilderness have disappeared; climate change is threatening our security; and resources like water are dangerously low across our western states.

On the 50th anniversary of the Rockefeller Commission Report, policymakers should revisit some of the recommendations made by the commission when our population was 120 million fewer. 

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