WASHINGTON – The population of the United States is growing more slowly than it has since the Great Depression in what demographers say is a reflection of the recession’s lingering effects on people’s behavior.
New population estimates released Monday by the Census Bureau show the nation added about 2.2 million residents in 2013. On New Year’s Day, the census projected, the U.S. population will surpass 317 million people, a one-year increase of 0.7 percent.
The last time the nation grew at a slower pace was in the heart of the Great Depression, from 1932 to 1937, according to an analysis by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution.
The recession led more women to postpone childbirth and fewer immigrants to come seeking jobs. As a result, the nation’s growth rate, which was just shy of 1 percent as recently as 2006, began sliding after the recession began the following year.
With the economic downturn officially over for four years now, some demographers expressed surprise that the population growth rate registered a decline.
Economists think the recession is over, but it’s not for demographic trends, said Ken Johnson, a demographer with the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. We should see growth going up.
Population estimates for individual states offered another hint that large numbers of people have not reverted to boom-time habits.
More people are moving to different states than they were in the depths of the recession, when they stayed put because they couldn’t sell their homes or find new jobs requiring a move. But state-to-state moves have not returned to their pre-recession levels, and half the states in the country are growing at a slower rate than they did last year, Frey said.
They’re doing better than they were in the really bad years, when they were in free fall, he said. But you would have hoped the trajectory would go up, and it hasn’t. From a demographic perspective, we’re not going full throttle yet.
Florida, for example, added 230,000 residents. But it failed to surpass New York state, which gained only 75,000 residents, in total population. That keeps Florida in fourth place behind California, Texas and New York. Some demographers had predicted the recession’s end would lead to the long-anticipated switch happening this year.
Maine and West Virginia lost population, largely because more people died than were born. Though both have experienced the phenomenon before, Johnson said the trend was exacerbated by lower birth rates during the recession.
Several demographers said the nation’s growth rate will probably pick up, but only when more people believe the economy is improving.
Sure, we’re out of the recession in the way the National Bureau of Economic Research defines recession, said Steven Ruggles, a historical demographer who is director of the Minnesota Population Center.
But that’s kind of irrelevant because of the distributional problem. The recession is not over for the vast majority of the population. It’s over for the top.