The United States Is Growing – And Shrinking

At the dawn of the 21st century the United States had about 300 million people, and could add 50 million by 2030. Still, some parts of the US will lose population as more people move to the city.

The Urban Institute’s map of regional population shifts illustrates this. Although Maine won’t see any population growth overall, the population of southern Maine is growing. Northern Maine’s population, however, is shrinking. It’s all about where the jobs are (and are not).

Take a look at the Urban Institute’s map. The rust belt from Upstate New York to Ohio, and down the Appalachians into Kentucky stand out as an area in decline. The Dakotas down to central Texas and New Mexico also stand out.

Texas is poised for a population boom, but it will be concentrated in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio triangle (Austin is in the middle). The coastal South and the West Coast, as well as most major urban areas in the Heartland, are also expected to grow significantly.

It’s not just the United States. The greater Tokyo area has almost 36 million people, but the countryside is emptying out. Some rural Japanese schools are running out of students.

In the mid-20th century, researcher John B. Calhoun made several attempts to create a mouse utopia. He constructed an enclosed area capable of housing 5,000 mice. There was plenty of food, no predators, and the original 8 mice (half male, half female) were disease free. Calhoun thought the mouse population would rise rapidly, then level off, and the mice would have a groovin’ good time with nothing to worry about.

But it went horribly wrong. Every.single.time. (He did this several dozen times.) The problem is that the mice would gather in clusters, while other areas were abandoned. Eventually the overcrowding and competition for resources led to violence among the males. The females stopped bearing young, and some killed their pups.

And then there were the “beautiful ones.” These non-aggressive males withdrew to the abandoned areas to live as hermits. They spent much of their time grooming, hence the nickname.

At first Calhoun wondered if the population decline would level off, enabling mouse society to stabalize as violence decreased. But no. Extinction was the fate of every mouse “utopia.”

What does this mean for humans? Generalizing from one species to another is tricky at best, especially considering that humans are much more intelligent (though Douglas Adams might disagree).

This doesn’t mean the apocalypse.

Still, there are striking parallels. There’s plenty of food on this planet to feed everyone, we no longer have natural predators, and while disease hasn’t been entirely conquered we’ve made enormous strides in medical science.

In addition to crowding into cities and the decline of the countryside, there’s the plummeting birthrates in Europe and Japan to below replacement level, which is expected to result in a population decrease.

But there’s more. In Japan there’s a group of young men called the “grass eaters” or “herbivore men” (草食男子, soshokukei danshi) who live as urban hermits, do not seek sex with women (or men), and who are rumored to spend more than the average man on grooming products. It’s hard to say how numerous they are, but there are enough of them to catch the West’s attention. Will the “beautiful ones” phenomenon come to Europe or America?

On the other hand, there’s contrary evidence. Crime, already low in Japan, has been decreasing. But if Calhoun’s mouse experiment applied equally to humans then crime in Japan should be increasing.

And that’s cause for hope. If humans follow some of the patterns from Calhoun’s experiment but not others then there’s an opportunity for humans to continue thriving.

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Messin’ With Texas

I’ve never been to Texas, though I hope to visit someday. You can’t help but hear a lot about it. Being the second largest state, Texas has a huge impact on everything from presidential elections to textbooks.

And Texas is growing fast. The US Census claims the overall Texas population will grow by 6.7 million people over the next 15 years to 33.3 million, but the state of Texas believes it could be more.

And it’s not just a booming population – it’s a shifting population. Today, 80% of Texans identify as white, though this drops to 44% for non-Hispanic whites. Those who identify as Hispanic or Latino are 38% of Texas’s population.

But Looming Boom: Texas Through 2030 by Texas A&M University shows that in just a few years Hispanics will overtake non-Hispanic whites (table 2). By 2030 half of all Texans might be Hispanic. And unlike the northeast, Texas will remain a younger state.

Because younger and Hispanic voters are more likely to vote Democratic, liberals have hopes of Turning Texas Blue.

This is overly optimistic, however, because Anglos are more likely than Hispanics to vote. And Hispanics are a younger demographic, meaning less of the population is of voting age. Besides, Hispanics are a more diverse group than some might realize – they’re more conservative than Anglo Democrats.

That is, Anglo Texans are solidly Republican which makes Democratic inroads difficult. But the GOP may find it easier to appeal to conservative Hispanics – though this will require softening the Republican attitude toward immigration.

We won’t see any change in Texan voting patterns in the 2016 presidential election. And while there probably won’t be much of a shift in 2020’s election, wonks looking at the fine print may notice a glitch in the Matrix.

Even in 2024 most Texans will likely vote for a Republican president because Anglo voter turnout will probably still exceed Hispanic voter turnout.

But the 2028 election should be interesting. I’m guessing that by then Texas will be purple, meaning it will be a swing state like Florida and Ohio are now. This means Republicans can still carry Texas in 2028, but they’ll have to work harder.

Beyond 2028, Texas will probably remain purple, but it will never be Massachusetts or California.

Will a Bachelor Tax Create More Babies?

At first I thought it was Onion style satire. Japanese bachelors should pay a handsome man tax to encourage them to marry.

Japanese men are losing interest in matrimony, often because of the enormous financial demands of marriage and family. But fewer births could mean Japan’s population will be a fifth smaller by mid-century.

The birthrate in the United States is falling too. Millennials are having fewer babies because they’re not financially ready due the Great Recession and its aftershocks. But despite fewer births than deaths, the US population is still projected to grow because of immigration. Japan is disinterested in immigration, however.

Yet, a bachelor tax would fail for several reasons:

  • People respond best to natural incentives. Social engineering usually has unintended consequences.
  • Japanese men will still remain unmarried unless the tax is much more expensive than the cost of raising a family.
  • Even if the tax incentivizes Japanese men to marry, this doesn’t mean Japanese women will become more marriage minded.
  • Even if more people do marry, this doesn’t mean they’ll have more babies (at least not enough to stop the population decline).

And there’s the rub. Ultimately it’s women, not men, who have babies. So a bachelor tax fails to directly target the correct group.

Maine’s Demographic Crunch

Maine’s population has peaked at 1.33 million and is expected to stay there through 2030.

But could Maine eventually see a population decrease?

The Portland Press Herald reported recently that between 2010 and 2013, 97,233 Mainers left the state while 95,223 moved into Maine – a net loss of 2,000 people.

This wouldn’t matter if Maine had a high enough birthrate. But the Census Bureau says Maine’s population was flat during the same time frame.

Even though states like Florida have a higher percentage of senior citizens, Maine’s lack of young people makes it the oldest state in the nation with a median age of 43.5 years old.

And the loss of young adults means the loss of two generations because their children will be born somewhere else.

This is a problem because the proportion of workers to retirees will be cut in half when Baby Boomers retire. With only two workers for every retiree, Maine is going to see an increased need for government funded services while fewer young people to start businesses tightens tax revenues.

Maine is a Baby Boomer state. Right now the population bubble is people in their 50s. But the Census Bureau’s graph comparing 2000 to 2030 shows the baby bust known as Generation X (who in 2030 will be in their 50s) looking like a dent between Boomers and Millennials. Meanwhile, the population of 20-something Mainers in 2030 (people who are now in elementary school) will be smaller than even Generation X.

This makes me wonder what will happen to Maine’s population in the mid to late 21st century when Baby Boomers are no longer with us and the number of young adults isn’t even close to replacement level.

Especially for northern Maine. The long standing migration pattern to southern Maine means that even if Maine’s overall population doesn’t decrease significantly, the population of northern Maine could still plummet.

The state’s projections anticipate continued growth in southern Maine, as well as some parts of mid-coast and central Maine. But the growth isn’t expected to happen in cities like Portland or Lewiston/Auburn. Instead, growth will be in the suburbs.

Meanwhile, some northern and eastern counties are expected to see double digit population decreases.

The Demographic Times They Are A-Changin’

I’ve heard it said that by mid-century whites will be a minority in the United States. But strictly speaking this isn’t true.

The Center for American Progress, in collaboration with the liberal Brookings Institution and the conservative American Enterprise Institute, released a report about America’s future. States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974–2060 looks at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

And the demographics, they are a-changin’. The report describes the emerging American racial mix using the phrase “majority-minority” to describe whites being less than half of the population but larger than any other group.

I prefer the word plurality. Semantics aside, whites will not be a minority by mid-century because being the largest group, though less than half of the population, is not comparable to the place African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and others have held in American society.

Regional Differences

Also interesting are the expected regional differences. My home state of Maine is 94% white (non-Hispanic). By 2060 this is expected to drop to 88%. Yet, Asian-Americans today are the largest group in Hawaii at 37.7% while whites are 23%.

Northern states from New England to the Pacific Northwest are projected to remain majority white in 2060, but Latinos are anticipated to outnumber whites in the Southwest – including California and Texas. And this could significantly alter politics in Texas, with national ramifications. Whites and Latinos will be roughly equal in mid-century Florida.

Although the African-American share of the demographic pie is expected to remain constant, notable shifts could happen in the Deep South. Will blacks one day outnumber whites in Georgia?

The Asian-American population is likely to increase significantly, and California will notice this most, as will every major American city.

Immigration Is Good

Immigration is going to be a major driver of these shifts. The United States has always followed a predictable pattern with immigration: heavy immigration from certain parts of the globe results in xenophobia and racism among Americans whose ancestors immigrated a few generations earlier. The newcomers are often poor but within a couple generations are as well educated as anyone else and have added invaluably to American culture. And then they lament that today’s immigrants aren’t like their grandparents.

In the nineteenth century the Irish began showing up in droves, and Americans put signs in shop windows saying “Irish need not apply.” The Irish were drunks, lazy, always on the dole (welfare), and practiced a pagan religion (Catholicism). Then in 1960 the great-grandson of Irish immigrants got elected president, and on March 17 every American claims Irish ancestry. But Americans of Irish descent are counted among those who want to close the door to Latinos.

But Latinos are a different group. Italian-Americans were geographically separated from Italy, so the Italian language in America faded away. But the Americas are mostly Spanish speaking, and the Southwest United States was once northern Mexico. Thus, Hispanics will be the only major ethnic group to retain bilingualism. And that’s okay. Canada does it just fine. Switzerland is trilingual.

Generations

Let’s take a look at the 2016 presidential election, and what that might mean down the line.

States of Change tells us that the Greatest Generation (think World War II) is only 1% of the US population, so not a group politicians will be courting. Members of the Silent Generation (think Elvis Presley) are now in their 70s and 80s. They’re less than a tenth of the population.

Baby Boomers and Millennials are each about a quarter of the population, and they are the ones politicians must focus on. But Boomers are key (for this election cycle) because people are more likely to vote when they’re older. And politically, they’re very polarized. Bill O’Reilly and Michael Moore are both Boomers.

Did I forget someone? Oh yeah, Generation X. My generation. Demographically, we are a baby bust. We’re a fifth of the American population. Like the Silent Generation, we will be forgotten. Reality Bites. Our best strategy is to ride Millennial’s coattails.

As the older generations pass away, Republicans will have to become more socially progressive to survive. Fiscally conservative young people are much more socially progressive than their elders. Fifty-eight percent of Millennial Republicans support gay marriage, and almost two-thirds would legalize marijuana.

The Millennial Future

Talkin’ ’bout my generation. It’s an American tradition. The Greatest Generation trashed Baby Boomers in the ’60s, and Boomers trashed GenX in the ’90s. Now it’s Millennials turn to be trashed. But they’re in their 20s. They will grow up, they will take the reins of leadership, and it will be fine. Expect an unprecedented number of women leaders from this generation.

Today, Millennials are 27% of the population. By 2060 they’ll be 21% (the same percentage GenX is today).

Not bad.

By comparison, GenX will be 8% in 2060. Those born after 2000 (a generation still being born) will be a quarter of the population, and folks born circa 2020 through the 2030s will be an equal score. The generation starting to be born around 2040 is, by 2060, expected to be slightly smaller.

Big picture: In the 2020s Millennials will start to fill the void left by Baby Boomers’ setting sun, and they will maintain this position until the 2060s.