Shouting Fire! in a Crowded Country

Published on January 21st, 2008

Surging birthrates and immigration bode a grim future
By Mark Cromer

The population of the United States didn’t exactly rank among the top domestic news stories of 2007; lacking the high-intensity drama of the epic wildfires that ravaged the American west, the mortgage meltdown and its record foreclosures, the violent chaos that reigns in many of our failing public schools.

For 2008 has barely begun and we’ve already been treated to two back-to-back reports that indicate ‘elbow room’ in America is likely to go the way of the polar bears this century.

The Associated Press is reporting that birthrates in the U.S. have a hit a nearly 50 year high, now exceeding virtually every industrialized, so-called ‘First World’ nation on the planet, including Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan.

The AP report, which is based on data culled from births in 2006, notes that teen births in America are again on the rise.

The news of America’s surging birthrate follows the recent projections by the U.S. Census Bureau that shows—albeit in an intentionally oblique fashion—that massive, sustained immigration is fueling a dramatic spike in the country’s population.

While it’s not as immediately gripping as the human tragedy of families losing their homes to either fires or foreclosures, our nation’s unwillingness to implement a coherent population and immigration policy that ensures sustainable growth with limited resources will prove far more catastrophic than any wildfire or financial debacle.

In the parlance of politics, it might be summed up with: "It’s the water, stupid."

An American Southwest now locked in virtual perma-drought has seen explosive population gains from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Phoenix and beyond. But even beyond the draconian conservation efforts that almost certainly will have to be aggressively enforced in the near future, water is only one critical element that portends the crisis to come if our population continues to grow at this rate.

Affordable housing, vanishing wilderness, the loss of arable land, deforestation and an exponentially growing pressures on America’s great cities to provide even the most basic services.

The floodgates are creaking.

According to the Census Bureau’s statistics—which is the low-end of their actual scale—America added 2.8 million people in 2007; for a total of more than 303 million people. The agency projects that as this year began 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 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 could 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. 

The AP report on America’s new baby “boomlet” states that Latinos accounted for nearly one-quarter of all births in the United States in 2006, even though Latinos accounted for only 14-percent of the U.S. population that year.

Illegal immigration plays a huge role in those numbers. 

Consider that in California since 1990, virtually all of the state’s population growth was a result of immigration and births to immigrants, both legal and illegal. 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 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 honestly address a future that appears increasingly grim 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 and the AP’s report on birthrates 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 leaders can’t honestly face the relationship between overwhelming waves of immigration and the critical problems that stem from population growth; then America won’t need statistics to understand the gravity of a crisis that may soon be irreversible.

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

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