“Our Country,” President Donald Trump says, “is FULL!”
America is the 146th most densely populated country on earth, sandwiched between Venezuela and Kyrgyzstan. Still, immigration is about more than land. People who say America is full are arguing that the costs immigrants impose outweigh the benefits. Those costs can be cultural, economic, or even political.
I’m the son of an immigrant, and I grew up in Orange County, California, a particularly immigrant-heavy enclave in an immigrant-heavy state. When I return home, even now, Orange County’s health is obvious. The unemployment rate is 2.6 percent, startups fill office parks, new construction dots the roadways. Growth can carry its own challenges — housing prices have skyrocketed, traffic on the 405 is a nightmare — but it beats contraction.
Yet through our suspicion of immigration, much of America is choosing contraction.
Here’s a fact that should get a lot more attention than it does: America is growing more slowly than at any time since the Great Depression. The culprits here are many: The population is aging, birthrates are falling, and immigration is flat. But altogether, America is adding 900,000 fewer people each year than was our 20th-century norm, with 2018 showing the slowest rate of growth in more than 80 years.
But it’s the geography of America’s Great Growth Slowdown that’s really worrying. A new report from the Economic Innovation Group shows that America’s population growth is increasingly concentrated in an ever-smaller number of counties, while the declines are spread across ever more counties. So though America’s population is growing overall, half of US counties are shrinking each year, and “over 50 million people, or 15% of the U.S. population, live in counties that have shrunk over the past decade.”
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