Population Parlor Tricks

Published on December 31st, 2007

The Census Bureau’s new numbers mask a grim future

By Mark Cromer
December 2007

For many Americans there are reasons aplenty to ring in the New Year with a keen sense of grateful appreciation—and as chaotic violence and bitter poverty around the globe remind us—being an American in America is still one of them.

But one of our country’s most pressing resolutions in 2008 has to be the development and implementation of a coherent population and immigration policy that places a priority on ensuring a sustainable future with the limited resources that future generations of Americans will face.

Based on the new projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States remains a developed nation that is growing its population at a third-world rate, primarily as a result of massive immigration.

According to the Census Bureau’s statistics, America will have added 2.8 million people since New Year’s Day in 2007; for a total of more than 303 million people. The agency projects that as 2008 begins America will record one birth every eight seconds and one death every 11 seconds.

If that seems like some benign census trivia, it’s not.

“Meanwhile,” the bureau’s press release reads, “net international migration is expected to add one person every 30 seconds. The result is an increase in the total U.S. Population of one person every 13 seconds.”

The problem with the presentation of these statistics starts with the “meanwhile.”

The government has a well-established history of vastly undercounting illegal immigrants; a core demographic that is one of the most significant factors driving overall population growth in the country.

The current official projection of 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States today—a figure that is now regurgitated by sheer rote among many journalists—is perhaps one of the most radical (and increasingly obvious) undercounts in the history of population statistics. While the government bases its 12 million figure on a Census Bureau canvass that relies upon voluntary participation, which at best would seem counterintuitive for a population presumed to be hiding, a far more thoroughly critical analysis of the illegal immigrant population was published by Californians for Population Stabilization earlier this year that projected the true number to be as high as 38 million people.

In 2005, Bear Stearns released the findings of its own comprehensive study that concluded the total number of illegal immigrants back then was closer to 20 million.

And consider that in 1990 the Census Bureau reported that 9,200 Brazilians were living in New York City, while the same year the Brazilian Consulate put the number of Sao Paulo’s citizens living in the Big Apple at 100,000.

In 1986, the first offer of mass amnesty for illegal immigrants in the United States was expected to draw about 900,000 people out of the proverbial shadows. More than 3 million people emerged to take the offer—and in the process triggered the most massive influx of sustained immigration in the history of our nation.

Those discrepancies pale in contrast to the present undercount of people who are living illegally in the United States today.

Yet the massive impact of immigration on our nation’s population growth remains unclear in the Census Bureau’s new numbers because of a statistical sleight of hand that separates net immigration gains from the gains that result from births and deaths. This masks the explosive number of immigrants giving birth in America and thus waters down immigration’s true impact on the bottom line of our growth. 

Consider that in California since 1990, virtually all of the state’s population growth was a result of immigration and births to immigrants. All of it. This fact has had staggering consequences on working class communities and has fueled the native-born, middle class exodus that continues to plague Southern California.

And so as the confetti is swept up and the champagne glasses put away, America is left facing a sobering challenge in the election year ahead. Can this nation and those seeking to lead it move beyond the current fire and brimstone debate over illegal immigration–as important as it is—and look honestly to a future that bodes grim tidings for those who are destined to inherit America mid-century?

The Census Bureau’s equation of how many people are born every few seconds ultimately smacks of little more than a parlor trick that distracts from what’s being irrevocably lost as our population soars. Our tenuous stock of ground water, arable land, open wilderness and other vital resources are all on the line as America continues to add more and more people, legally and otherwise.

The Census Bureau’s statistics offer us another opportunity to look afresh at where we are, where we have come from and, most important, where we are headed as a nation. If our prospective leaders can’t begin to honestly address the challenges immigration brings to our population growth, then future statistics released by the bureau will be deeply troubling indeed.

Mark Cromer is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), www.capsweb.org . He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].

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