300 Million Americans and Counting

If you have ever been on a Los Angeles freeway at rush-hour, boarded a weekday morning subway in New York City, sailed into Boston Harbor on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon, attended a Ohio State vs. Michigan football game, tried to get pizza at your local mall on a Sunday evening, or lined up for a Starbuck’s coffee almost any time, you know there are a ton of people living here. From my point view, I hope there always will be.

Last week, we were told by statisticians who compile this kind of information, America’s population reached 300 million. Only two other nations, China and India, have more human beings within their borders. Indeed, the world population is now approximately 6.551 billion and therefore we comprise about 4.5% of the earth’s total.

The U.S. Census Bureau is the source for most of our population information; its calculations suggest that a new person is born every 7 seconds, while one living person dies every 13 seconds, and an immigrant arrives every 31 seconds. Doing the math, that means we gain a net new person in this country every 11 seconds.

America is still growing with net increases in its population every day and that makes it unique amongst almost any other big, advanced country in the world. In 1915, we hit the unbelievable figure of 100 million. Just 52 years later, we crossed the 200 million mark, with much hoopla and fanfare: witness Life magazine (no longer living itself as a weekly publication), which identified Robert Ken Woo, a fourth-generation Chinese-American from Atlanta to be “the” 200 millionth American!

We are a bit more sophisticated now, although some news organizations were actually still most interested in identifying the “real” 300 millionth soul and went so far as to place the area for that event as being somewhere in the American Southwest, making the point that immigration is the reason for our swelling population. Whatever the reason or reasons, and whoever is John Doe No. 300 million, the fact is that our population in 2050 is now seen as being around 420 million!

As usual, the numbers alone cannot tell the real story. That is tied up in more complex statistics. First amongst those is the population shift from America’s birthplace in the colonial days of the north-east to today’s crowding of the formerly open areas of wilderness in the Southwest. Our top three fastest growing states in terms of population are now Nevada, Arizona and Texas. Wisconsin, incidentally, has held fairly steady since the 2000 Census at around 5.45 million.

The reasons for this Nevada, Arizona and Texas boom are at least two-fold: first we have a huge immigration flow from south of our border from Mexico, Latin and South America, and they tend to move to geographically similar areas with plenty of sunshine. In 1970, our immigrant population was about 5%. Today it appears to be over 12% and it is most definitely rising. Projections for 2050, show a decrease in non-Hispanic whites from 69% to about 50%. Hispanics will rise to 24%, Asians to 8% and blacks will increase, albeit only slightly, to about 14%.

The second and third reasons for the increases seen now in the Southwest are the facts that our population is growing older (indeed, by 2030 we are projected to have our over-65 population comprising 20% of our total American humanity) and these people seek warmth, sunshine and less inclement weather above all else. Also, as our coastlines grow more crowded and the real-estate more expensive, people tend to move inward, away from the oceans. California and Florida are no longer the only “golden” lands. Nevada, once virtually all a desert, has seen its population increase more than 17% in just the four years since 2000 and one trip to Las Vegas now will show you there is no slowing of that today.

Make no mistake, however, there is still plenty of open space left in the United States and our population is very disproportional amongst our individual states. More than half of all Americans live in just 10 of our 50 states, and right now, in spite of the inward movements, most of them still dwell right along our coasts.

When I left California as my native home, I was asked “why?” repeatedly by my friends and colleagues. I reminded them that when I was growing up California had but 13 million people and when I left the figure was inverted to 31 million. I told my inquirers that in that time, California had acquired no new land. However, the coastline still called. I tried Maine and found it delightful. With only about 1.2 million people and much less in the winter (and the last few have been quite mild), I enjoy a ton of open and ecologically beautiful space.

The truth is there is still plenty of the best left in America, although it is equally true that we must change our ways if we wish to preserve this beauty for future generations. No doubt urban to suburban sprawl is the killer. The further away from our work centers that we must commute, the more vehicles and the more fuel we shall utilize and those items are definitely negative for improving our environment.

Myself, I remain an optimist. New technologies will help us beyond our wildest dreams. When I was growing up, who knew of personal computers, the Internet, of faxes, cellular phones and wireless communications? The truth is that if Mankind wishes we can have all our wildest and most beautiful dreams be true. On the other hand if we wish to thin our population, we can invite groups like al Qaeda in and promote a death wish mentality by leaving rogue sites like North Korea alone to continue their arms build-up and watch ourselves be annihilated. Let us hope that that pro-living crowd wins out against those dark souls who want only to destroy. According to our latest population statistics and projections, we the living shall indeed prevail.