Since the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the population of the U.S. has dropped only once, in 1918, when more people died from the Spanish flu than from war wounds on the battlefields of Europe. The second lowest year for population growth? Probably this year, 2021.

An April 7 research briefing from Oxford Economics estimates that the U.S. population will grow just 0.2% this year, after growth of just 0.4% last year. Those are the lowest numbers in U.S. history with the exception of the population shrinkage of about 0.1% in the pandemic year of 1918.

Behind the slowdown are the COVID-19 pandemic and a dropoff in immigration, which is partly because of COVID and partly the consequence of Trump administration policies. Population growth should pick up speed in 2022 and beyond because the pandemic will end and the Biden Administration and Congress are likely to reverse some of the Trump-era restrictions, Oxford Economics says.

“We estimate that [immigration] fell to 341,000 in 2020, and we expect it will decline to 180,000 in 2021 before starting to recover. We look for immigration to return to about 1mn [million] annually by the end of the decade,” says the briefing by Nancy Vanden Houten, Oxford Economics lead economist.

To her, a rebound in immigration would be a good thing. “Given slower growth in the native-born population—and the aging of the U.S. population—steady immigration levels will be key to maintaining growth in the labor force in the years ahead,” she writes. The Population Reference Bureau came to a similar conclusion early last year, before the pandemic. “In the long term, slower population and household growth could negatively affect the future U.S. economy by reducing the supply of workers, the tax base, and the demand for goods and services. This slowdown could also reduce demand for new home construction and lead to declines in home values,” it wrote.

Before COVID hit, the white population of the U.S. fell from 2010 through 2019 — albeit by a minuscule 16,612 people, according to the Census Bureau. “If this trend is confirmed with the full 2020 census, the 2010-to-2020 decade would be the only decade since the first census was taken in 1790 when the white population did not grow,” Brookings Institution senior fellow William Frey wrote in January.


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