New Projections Foresee Soaring Foreign-born and Latino Populations

A new report by the Pew Research Center projects dramatic demographic shifts by mid-century. New population projections portend a demographic transformation of the United States over the next 45 years, driven by continuing immigration and fast population growth among Latinos.

A report released Monday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center projects the Latino population in the United States will triple  and represent 30 percent of the total population by 2050.

Overall, the U.S. population is projected to increase 47 percent from 296 million in 2005 to 438 million in 2050. Immigration accounts for most of the increase, with newly arriving immigrants responsible for 47 percent of the rise and their U.S.-born children and grandchildren representing another 35 percent.

The study projects that by 2025, the foreign-born share of the total population will surpass the historic peak recorded during the immigration waves of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 2050, nearly 20 percent of Americans will be foreign-born, compared with about 12 percent today and about 15 percent in 1890 and 1910.

In 2050, non-Hispanic whites will still be the nation’s largest group, the study finds, but whites’ share of the total population is projected to drop from 67 percent today to 47 percent by mid-century. The African-American population share will hold steady at 13 percent of the total, but Asian-Americans will increase their share from 5 percent today to 9 percent of the total U.S. population in 2050. 

The authors of the study stressed that their findings are projections — not predictions — based on current trends of births, deaths and immigration, the key components of population change. Current trends shift, and unforeseen changes in immigration policy, economic fluctuations and global conflicts could alter the projected totals.

But the report is a fascinating glimpse of what America may look like in the future, following a modern surge of immigration that began after 1965 when immigration quotas were abolished. These per-country limits had been in place since the 1920s and had effectively barred non-European immigration.

The prominent role of immigration in U.S. population growth is contrasted in the study with the declining fertility rate of U.S.-born women. The average number of births per woman in the U.S. has declined from more than 3.5 in the 1950s to about 2 now. But the authors of the Pew study caution that the population growth due to immigration will do little to offset the burden of aging Baby Boomers, who will double the nation’s elderly population in coming years.

While the share of working-age people will decrease from 63 percent to 58 percent by 2050, the share of people over 65 will rise to 19 percent of the population, compared with 12 percent today. That means a sharp rise in the “dependency ratio” — the number of children and elderly compared with the number of working-age Americans. In 2005 there were 59 children and elderly people per 100 adults of working age. That figure will rise to 72 dependents per 100 adults of working age in 2050, meaning the cost per worker to support the young and old will go up.

The executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, Paul Taylor, and the authors of the study, Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, held a telephone news conference Monday to announce the report. They declined to discuss the policy or social implications of the study, saying only that population predictions are valuable tools to help government and business accommodate changing demographics. 

“We’re obviously mindful of the fact there is an important debate going on about immigration,” said Taylor. “We try to inform these kind of debates, but we don’t think too much about the implications of them. It’s not our job. Our job is to provide good solid information and allow the public policy process to carry forward on the basis of that information.”

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Kate Bernuth

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