The US is becoming more like Europe
By Scott Sumner
The Wall Street Journal just reported some new Census data, which shows that the US population grew at the slowest rate in 80 years between July 2017 and July 2018. At first I wondered if this reflected a slowdown in immigration, but that doesn’t seem to be the biggest factor:
As birthrates have dropped and death rates risen, immigration’s role in the nation’s continuing population growth has expanded. Last year, it accounted for 48% of the country’s growth, up from 35% in 2011. Accounting for arrivals and departures, the Census Bureau estimated that the country gained 979,000 people from abroad last year, close to the annual average of 1 million in recent years. The figure accounts for both legal and unauthorized immigration, as well as the movement of Americans moving abroad and back.
As I predicted, the Trump administration is not having a major impact on the overall rate of immigration, even as it makes it harder for certain categories of people to immigrate. Indeed, I predict that in the long run Trump will have caused immigration to be higher than otherwise, as he pushes the Democrats into a more extreme pro-immigration stance. Look for the next President to sharply reverse course and increase immigration—especially from Asia.
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, the US had a much higher birthrate than Europe. While the birthrate is still a bit higher, the gap has narrowed sharply. The US birthrate is still much higher than in Germany and Italy, but lower than in France and about the same as the UK:
The US population has gone from growing about one percentage point faster than the EU in the 1990s, to perhaps a third of a point faster today.
So what other ways is the US becoming more like Europe?
1. The percentage of Americans who are not religious has been rising dramatically.
2. Our health care system is increasingly socialized.
3. Our politics increasingly resembles the populism of places like Hungary and Italy. The political polarization resembles the Brexit split in the UK. Anti-immigration nationalism came on the scene in Europe before it hit the US.
4. The recent criminal justice reform bill slightly (and I emphasize slightly) moves us in the European direction of lower rates of incarceration. We are also slightly softening the war on drugs.
5. Walkable shopping areas are increasingly popular. Some cities are moving to allow dense townhouses in areas previously reserved for single-family homes.
What am I missing?
In terms of monetary policy, the population slowdown makes the US more susceptible to hitting the zero bound in interest rates. Not surprisingly, one of the few countries to avoid the zero bound during the Great Recession was Australia, which has fast population growth.