By James Pethokoukis
A growing population can be a big plus if you think faster technological progress and economic growth is desirable. More people mean bigger markets to sell and a bigger workforce to make products and provide services. Less obviously, perhaps, a larger population potentially means “more researchers, which in turn leads to more new ideas and a higher standard of living,” says Stanford University economist Charles Jones in his 2020 article, “The End of Economic Growth? Unintended Consequences of a Declining Population. The more discoverers, inventors, and innovators, the better.
So it’s good news from a growth perspective that U.S. births rose last year — up 1% from 2020 — for the first time in seven years, federal figures show. released Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Still, the longer-term trend appears to be downward. Births plummeted during the global financial crisis and never really recovered. “This little hitch still leaves us on a long-term trajectory towards lower births,” Phillip Levine, professor of economics at Wellesley College, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
And unfortunately, the immigration figures don’t look any more encouraging. Goldman Sachs estimates that a slowdown in the growth of the country’s foreign-born population between 2019 and 2021 has left the U.S. population “about 2 million less than it otherwise would have been, and the population about 1.6 million less”. And the bank doesn’t foresee much in Washington that would significantly alter that trend. He also notes that estimates from the Congressional Budget Office “suggest the gap could widen.”
Too few immigrants is an easier political problem to solve than too few births, of course. But you wouldn’t know that from what’s going on in the American political system. Again, I may be overestimating our desire for faster growth and technological advancements, not to mention more productive capacity that can help fight inflation.