Six Ways the U.S. is Changing

The oil boom has legs, the recession is lingering and Maine is getting old

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The population of the United States is growing, but barely. According to data released this week by the Census Bureau, the number of Americans grew by less than 1% – the lowest growth rate since the 1930s. What does that mean for the country? And what else can we learn about the nation’s changing demographics? Here are six takeaways from the Census’s latest numbers.

1. The recession lingers

Between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013, the U.S. population only grew by 0.72%, the lowest rate since 1937. Part of that has to do with less state-to-state migration, which means fewer people are moving around, finding better jobs, marrying and having kids. “Growth is slow,” says Ken Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, “and I think it’s an effect from the recession.” Johnson says that while many economists say the recession’s over, he doesn’t see it playing out demographically. Rising birth rates and domestic migration are often a sign of a healthy economy, and both remain depressed.

2. People are moving to Florida again

Before the recession, Florida gained roughly 280,000 people a year. In 2005, 632,000 people left other parts of the country for the Sunshine State. But people started to leave during the recession, leading to a net loss in population. A large part of the state’s economy relies on continued growth — building subdivisions and housing, for example – and as it slowed, fewer people moved there while some of those who relied on construction jobs left. While Florida’s net population gain isn’t near where it was in 2005 and 2006, it has rebounded. Part of the reason is older New York residents fleeing the cold for the Florida sun. Andy Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College, says by 2014 Florida (pop. 19.5 million) will likely eclipse New York (19.6 million) as the third most populous state.

3. North Dakota’s oil boom has legs

The biggest percentage jump from 2012 to 2013 happened in North Dakota, which has seen a steady flow of workers coming to the state thanks to the oil and gas boom. But it’s not all energy jobs. “The growth is more widespread than just in the oil-producing areas,” Johnson says. “It also means there’s more money coming into the state and more opportunities. But migration is what’s fueling that rapid growth.”

4. Old and white = population loss

The only two states that lost population in 2013 were Maine and West Virginia, both of which have older, non-Hispanic populations. Whites tend to have lower fertility rates than other groups, and an older population will lead to fewer births. In Maine, the death rate has also been slowly growing as the population ages. In 2011, the state had more people die than were born for the first time. West Virginia has been losing younger residents as it coal jobs disappear, Johnson says.

5. Like California, with lower taxes

Both Nevada and Arizona continued to see higher growth rates than the rest of the country. Americans have been moving to the Southwest for decades, a region that has traditionally been a retirement destination for many in the Northeast and Midwest. But a number of businesses have also moved to the area in part to be as close to California as possible without paying the state’s higher tax rates. Still, Arizona and Nevada are lagging behind population growth rates from the mid-2000s.

6. The U.S. is becoming Europe

The population increase is so low that some experts believe that the U.S. will soon face the same demographic challenges of Europe: an aging population without enough young people. While it’s unclear how big of a factor low birth rates are in the latest figures, Johnson predicts that about 1 million births didn’t occur because of the recession. The U.S. birth rate has been falling for decades. Since the recession, it’s down to about 1.9 births per female. “The only thing that’s kept us away from becoming Europe is immigrants, or we’d already be there,” says Beveridge. But even immigrant birth rates have fallen in the last couple decades. According to the Pew Research Center, rates for foreign-born women decreased by 14% between 2007 and 2010 and fell 6% for U.S.-born women.

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