Morton Marcus: It wasn’t COVID alone suppressing population growth



After 2020, we could not imagine 2021 extending the reality of COVID’s evolutionary attack on humanity. But it happened.

The data are not in for 2021 in full, but we have some indications of the impact nationwide. Normally, we expect economic development will involve more people to generate more income. We presume both are good, although we know there can be downsides to both.

The latest population estimates for the United States, as of July 1, 2021, were recently released by the Census Bureau. Over the course of the 12 months from July 1, 2020, the nation’s population increased by 0.12%, the lowest annual growth rate in 121 years. Only 30 states saw any growth at all.

Indiana’s population was estimated to have increased by 0.30%, more than double that very low national growth rate. Our growth rate ranked 21st in the nation, just behind Alabama and ahead of Wyoming. Make what you will of that.

In absolute terms, Indiana gained 20,457 persons, which maintained our ranking as the 17th most populous state, which does have bearing on our political and economic significance.

Population changes are the result of complex decisions made by millions of people. Births and deaths comprise the components of natural increase. Their location is often determined by decisions made years earlier concerning domestic and international migration.

Natural increase, the excess of births over deaths, was a mere 692 persons for Indiana in 2020-2021, as births were 77,598 and deaths 76,906. This gave us 1,009 births for every 1,000 deaths. Nationally that figures was 1,043 births per 1,000 deaths.

For both Indiana and the nation, these birth rates were 1,035 and 1,047 over the nine years between 2010 and 2019. The response to COVID is believed to account for the difference between the most recent rates and those of the preceding decade.

However, demographic analysts are concerned because our national population growth rate has trended down since its post-WWII baby boom peak just over 2%. Over the past 30 years, the rate has failed to top 1.4%. The decline is evident in both natural increase and net international migration. COVID may have only accelerated an on-going process.

William Frey of the Brookings Institution has written (12/23/21) “… a focus on reactivating the nation’s population growth should be given high priority.” Specifically “…it is vital that we examine public policies that can overcome barriers to the bearing and raising of children and, probably most important, stimulate immigration in ways that will reinvigorate the nation’s population growth.”

Yet the two biggest movements of our era, environmentalism and increased female labor force participation, both work against a return to population growth rates of the past. Anti-poverty programs encourage smaller families. Selective immigration is now considered elitist.

Are we prepared to return to the values of the “Greatest Generation?”