Why US Population Growth Is in the Danger Zone

Always struck by the lack of thinking and analysis regarding options and approaches on living with a declining population. A larger population is not good for the planet from any number of perspectives, and even advantages at the country level are mixed at best.

Just as we have to do with climate change, we need to consider what a mix of curbing growth and mitigating the impacts would look like, how to manage transitions and address externalities:

The U.S. population grew at the slowest pace in history in 2021, according to census data released last week. That news sounds extreme, but it’s on trend. First came 2020, which saw one of the lowest U.S. population-growth rates ever. And now we have 2021 officially setting the all-time record.

U.S. growth didn’t slowly fade away: It slipped, and slipped, and then fell off a cliff. The 2010s were already demographically stagnant; every year from 2011 to 2017, the U.S. grew by only 2 million people. In 2020, the U.S. grew by just 1.1 million. Last year, we added only 393,000 people.

What’s going on?

A country grows or shrinks in three ways: immigration, deaths, and births. America’s declining fertility rate often gets the headline treatment. Journalists are obsessed with the question of why Americans aren’t having more babies. And because I’m a journalist, be assured that we’ll do the baby thing in a moment. But it’s the other two factors—death and immigration—that are overwhelmingly responsible for the collapse in U.S. population growth.

First, we have to talk about COVID. The pandemic has killed nearly 1 million Americans in the past two years, according to the CDC. Tragically and remarkably, a majority of those deaths happened after we announced the authorization of COVID vaccines, which means that they were particularly concentrated in 2021. Last year, deaths exceeded births in a record-high number of U.S. counties. Never before in American history have so many different parts of the country shrunk because of “natural decrease,” which is the difference between deaths and births.

Excess deaths accounted for 50 percent of the difference in population growth from 2019 to 2021. That’s a clear sign of the devastating effect of the pandemic. But this statistic also tells us that even if we could had brought excess COVID deaths down to zero, U.S. population growth would still have crashed to something near an all-time low. To understand why, we have to talk about the second variable in the population equation: immigration.

As recently as 2016, net immigration to the United States exceeded 1 million people. But immigration has since collapsed by about 75 percent, falling below 250,000 last year. Immigration fell by more than half in almost all of the hot spots for foreign-born migrants, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco

Some of this reduction is a result of economic factors; immigration from Latin America has slowed as those economies have grown. Some of it is epidemiological; immigration declined around the world because of COVID lockdowns. But much of this is an American policy choice. The Trump administration worked to constrain not only illegal immigration but also legal immigration. And the Biden administration has not prioritized the revitalization of pro-immigration policy, perhaps due to fears of a xenophobic backlash from the center and right.

America’s bias against immigration is self-defeating in almost every dimension. “Immigration is a geopolitical cheat code for the U.S.,” says Caleb Watney, a co-founder of the Institute for Progress, a new think tank in Washington, D.C. “Want to supercharge science? Immigrants bring breakthroughs, patents, and Nobel Prizes in droves. Want to stay ahead of China? Immigrants drive progress in semiconductors, AI, and quantum computing. Want to make America more dynamic? Immigrants launch nearly 50 percent of U.S. billion-dollar start-ups. The rest of the world is begging international talent to come to their shores while we are slamming the door in their face.”

Finally, yes, Americans are having fewer babies—like basically every other rich country in the world. Since 2011, annual births have declined by 400,000. Two years ago, I wrote that “the future of the city is childless,” and the pandemic seems to have accelerated that future. Just look at Los Angeles: L.A. County recorded 153,000 live births in 2001 but fewer than 100,000 in 2021. At this rate, sometime around 2030, L.A. births will have declined by 50 percent in the 21st century.

Declining births get a lot of media coverage, with mandatory references to Children of Men, followed by mandatory references to Matrix-style birthing pods, followed by inevitable fights over whether it’s creepy for dudes like me to talk academically about raising a nation’s collective fertility. My personal opinion is that wanting and having children is a personal matter for families, even as the spillover effects of declining fertility make it a very public issue for the overall economy.

The fact that declining fertility is a global trend suggests that it’s not something we can easily reversed by mimicking another country’s politics or culture. Around the world, rising women’s education and employment seem to correlate with swiftly declining birth rates. In just about every possible way you could imagine, this is a good thing: It strongly suggests that economic and social progress give women more power over their bodies and their lives.

But I should stress that declining fertility isn’t always a sign of female empowerment, as indicated by the large and growing gap between the number of children Americans say they want and the number of children they have. There are many potential explanations for this gap, but one is that the U.S. has made caring for multiple children too expensive and cumbersome for even wealthy parents, due to a shortage of housing, the rising cost of child care, and the paucity of long-term federal support for children.

The implications of permanently slumped population growth are wide-ranging. Shrinking populations produce stagnant economies. Stagnant economies create wonky cultural knock-on effects, like a zero-sum mentality that ironically makes it harder to pursue pro-growth policies. (For example, people in slow-growth regions might be fearful of immigrants because they seem to represent a threat to scarce business opportunities, even though immigration represents these places’ best chance to grow their population and economy.) The sector-by-sector implications of declining population would also get very wonky very fast. Higher education is already fighting for its life in the age of remote school and rising tuition costs. Imagine what happens if, following the historically large Millennial cohort, every subsequent U.S. generation gets smaller and smaller until the end of time, slowly starving many colleges of the revenue they’ve come to expect.

Even if you’re of the dubious opinion that the U.S. would be better off with a smaller population, American demographic policy is bad for Americans who are alive right now. We are a nation where families have fewer kids than they want; where Americans die of violence, drugs, accidents, and illness at higher rates than similarly rich countries; and where geniuses who want to found new job-creating companies are forced to do so in other countries, which get all the benefits of higher productivity, higher tax revenue, and better jobs.

Simply put, the U.S. has too few births, too many deaths, and not enough immigrants. Whether by accident, design, or a total misunderstanding of basic economics, America has steered itself into the demographic danger zone

Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the Work in Progress newsletter. He is also the author of Hit Makers and the host of the podcast Plain English.

Source: Why US Population Growth Is in the Danger Zone

Long Slide Looms for World Population, With Sweeping Ramifications

One of the more significant articles I have seen recently, highlighting the need for countries and societies to adapt to declining populations. While traditional immigrant receiving countries like Canada, Australia and the USA can blunt the decline somewhat, they will also feel the effects on an aging population.

Just as in climate change where adaptation and reduction strategies are both needed, relying only on immigration, as Canada largely does, to mitigate (slow down) the decline, will not address successfully the longer-term trends.

Politicians, policy makers and stakeholders need to devote more attention to other policy responses beyond simply increased immigration. After all, declining populations in most of our source countries may make Canada relatively less attractive in economic terms:

All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.

Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.

Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.

A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women. But the census announcements this month from China and the United States, which showed the slowest rates of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to hard-to-fathom adjustments.

The strain of longer lives and low fertility, leading to fewer workers and more retirees, threatens to upend how societies are organized — around the notion that a surplus of young people will drive economies and help pay for the old. It may also require a reconceptualization of family and nation. Imagine entire regions where everyone is 70 or older. Imagine governments laying out huge bonuses for immigrants and mothers with lots of children. Imagine a gig economy filled with grandparents and Super Bowl ads promoting procreation.

“A paradigm shift is necessary,” said Frank Swiaczny, a German demographer who was the chief of population trends and analysis for the United Nations until last year. “Countries need to learn to live with and adapt to decline.”

The ramifications and responses have already begun to appear, especially in East Asia and Europe. From Hungary to China, from Sweden to Japan, governments are struggling to balance the demands of a swelling older cohort with the needs of young people whose most intimate decisions about childbearing are being shaped by factors both positive (more work opportunities for women) and negative (persistent gender inequality and high living costs).

The 20th century presented a very different challenge. The global population saw its greatest increase in known history, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000, as life spans lengthened and infant mortality declined. In some countries — representing about a third of the world’s people — those growth dynamics are still in play. By the end of the century, Nigeria could surpass China in population; across sub-Saharan Africa, families are still having four or five children.

But nearly everywhere else, the era of high fertility is ending. As women have gained more access to education and contraception, and as the anxieties associated with having children continue to intensify, more parents are delaying pregnancy and fewer babies are being born. Even in countries long associated with rapid growth, such as India and Mexico, birthrates are falling toward, or are already below, the replacement rate of 2.1 children per family.

The change may take decades, but once it starts, decline (just like growth) spirals exponentially. With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents did — which is happening in dozens of countries — the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.

“It becomes a cyclical mechanism,” said Stuart Gietel Basten, an expert on Asian demographics and a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s demographic momentum.”

Some countries, like the United States, Australia and Canada, where birthrates hover between 1.5 and 2, have blunted the impact with immigrants. But in Eastern Europe, migration out of the region has compounded depopulation, and in large parts of Asia, the “demographic time bomb” that first became a subject of debate a few decades ago has finally gone off.

South Korea’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019 — less than one child per woman, the lowest rate in the developed world. Every month for the past 59 months, the total number of babies born in the country has dropped to a record depth.

That declining birthrate, coupled with a rapid industrialization that has pushed people from rural towns to big cities, has created what can feel like a two-tiered society. While major metropolises like Seoul continue to grow, putting intense pressure on infrastructure and housing, in regional towns it’s easy to find schools shut and abandoned, their playgrounds overgrown with weeds, because there are not enough children.

Expectant mothers in many areas can no longer find obstetricians or postnatal care centers. Universities below the elite level, especially outside Seoul, find it increasingly hard to fill their ranks — the number of 18-year-olds in South Korea has fallen from about 900,000 in 1992 to 500,000 today. To attract students, some schools have offered scholarships and even iPhones.

To goose the birthrate, the government has handed out baby bonuses. It increased child allowances and medical subsidies for fertility treatments and pregnancy. Health officials have showered newborns with gifts of beef, baby clothes and toys. The government is also building kindergartens and day care centers by the hundreds. In Seoul, every bus and subway car has pink seats reserved for pregnant women.

But this month, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki admitted that the government — which has spent more than $178 billion over the past 15 years encouraging women to have more babies — was not making enough progress. In many families, the shift feels cultural and permanent.

“My grandparents had six children, and my parents five, because their generations believed in having multiple children,” said Kim Mi-kyung, 38, a stay-at-home parent. “I have only one child. To my and younger generations, all things considered, it just doesn’t pay to have many children.”

Thousands of miles away, in Italy, the sentiment is similar, with a different backdrop.

In Capracotta, a small town in southern Italy, a sign in red letters on an 18th-century stone building looking on to the Apennine Mountains reads “Home of School Kindergarten” — but today, the building is a nursing home.

Residents eat their evening broth on waxed tablecloths in the old theater room.

“There were so many families, so many children,” said Concetta D’Andrea, 93, who was a student and a teacher at the school and is now a resident of the nursing home. “Now there is no one.”

The population in Capracotta has dramatically aged and contracted — from about 5,000 people to 800. The town’s carpentry shops have shut down. The organizers of a soccer tournament struggled to form even one team.

About a half-hour away, in the town of Agnone, the maternity ward closed a decade ago because it had fewer than 500 births a year, the national minimum to stay open. This year, six babies were born in Agnone.

“Once you could hear the babies in the nursery cry, and it was like music,” said Enrica Sciullo, a nurse who used to help with births there and now mostly takes care of older patients. “Now there is silence and a feeling of emptiness.”

In a speech last Friday during a conference on Italy’s birthrate crisis, Pope Francis said the “demographic winter” was still “cold and dark.”

More people in more countries may soon be searching for their own metaphors. Birth projections often shift based on how governments and families respond, but according to projections by an international team of scientists published last year in The Lancet, 183 countries and territories — out of 195 — will have fertility rates below replacement level by 2100.

Their model shows an especially sharp decline for China, with its population expected to fall from 1.41 billion now to about 730 million in 2100. If that happens, the population pyramid would essentially flip. Instead of a base of young workers supporting a narrower band of retirees, China would have as many 85-year-olds as 18-year-olds.

China’s rust belt, in the northeast, saw its population drop by 1.2 percent in the past decade, according to census figures released on Tuesday. In 2016, Heilongjiang Province became the first in the country to have its pension system run out of money. In Hegang, a “ghost city” in the province that has lost almost 10 percent of its population since 2010, homes cost so little that people compare them to cabbage.

Many countries are beginning to accept the need to adapt, not just resist. South Korea is pushing for universities to merge. In Japan, where adult diapers now outsell ones for babies, municipalities have been consolidated as towns age and shrink. In Sweden, some cities have shifted resources from schools to elder care. And almost everywhere, older people are being asked to keep working. Germany, which previously raised its retirement age to 67, is now considering a bump to 69.

Going further than many other nations, Germany has also worked through a program of urban contraction: Demolitions have removed around 330,000 units from the housing stock since 2002.

And if the goal is revival, a few green shoots can be found. After expanding access to affordable child care and paid parental leave, Germany’s fertility rate recently increased to 1.54, up from 1.3 in 2006. Leipzig, which once was shrinking, is now growing again after reducing its housing stock and making itself more attractive with its smaller scale.

“Growth is a challenge, as is decline,” said Mr. Swiaczny, who is now a senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany.

Demographers warn against seeing population decline as simply a cause for alarm. Many women are having fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations could lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for the smaller numbers of children who are born.

But, said Professor Gietel Basten, quoting Casanova: “There is no such thing as destiny. We ourselves shape our lives.”

The challenges ahead are still a cul-de-sac — no country with a serious slowdown in population growth has managed to increase its fertility rate much beyond the minor uptick that Germany accomplished. There is little sign of wage growth in shrinking countries, and there is no guarantee that a smaller population means less stress on the environment.

Many demographers argue that the current moment may look to future historians like a period of transition or gestation, when humans either did or did not figure out how to make the world more hospitable — enough for people to build the families that they want.

Surveys in many countries show that young people would like to be having more children, but face too many obstacles.

Anna Parolini tells a common story. She left her small hometown in northern Italy to find better job opportunities. Now 37, she lives with her boyfriend in Milan and has put her desire to have children on hold.

She is afraid her salary of less than 2,000 euros a month would not be enough for a family, and her parents still live where she grew up.

“I don’t have anyone here who could help me,” she said. “Thinking of having a child now would make me gasp.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/22/world/global-population-shrinking.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

For more conventional thinking, see the Foreign Affairs article by , which is similar to the arguments of the Century Initiative, Irving Studin and others. Only at the end does the author acknowledge that “quality” (e.g., human capital, skills etc) matter as much if not more than numbers):

The United States’ global preeminence owes a great deal to demographics. After the collapse and fragmenting of the Soviet Union, the United States became the world’s third most populous country, behind the giants China and India. By comparison to other developed countries, the United States maintained unusually high levels of fertility and immigration—a phenomenon I termed “American demographic exceptionalism” in these pages in 2019. Since the end of the Cold War, the overall American population and its number of working-age people (between the ages of 20 and 64) have grown more rapidly than those of other developed countries—and faster, too, than those of rivals China and Russia. Growing working-age populations boost national productivity in economies run by governments that can successfully develop and tap human resources. For modern welfare states, the slower aging of the population forestalls some of the fiscal burdens built into current arrangements.  

To the extent that crude demographic trends matter in world affairs, they have been running to the United States’ advantage for some time. But big changes are underway. The initial returns from the U.S. 2020 census and the reports about last year’s birth totals offered sobering news: with the slowdown of population growth and steady declines in national fertility, the United States now seems to be charting a less optimistic demographic path, one leading to a grayer and less populous future.   

The United States may be losing its advantage and becoming less exceptional as Americans choose to have fewer children. To the degree that lower birthrates signal diminished popular confidence about the future, the drop-off in fertility warrants attention and perhaps concern. Slower population growth could also have troublesome longer-term implications for Washington’s pay-as-you-go entitlements for senior citizens and other social welfare programs. But a look under the hood of the latest population data and projections suggests that there is no immediate reason to be alarmed about the country’s prospective international standing. The United States will remain in a strong demographic position with respect to its competitors for decades to come.

DECELERATION AND DECLINE

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 “headline” numbers formally ratify something demographers already knew: the United States’ population growth has been decelerating steadily since 1990—and is now at the slowest recorded tempo in the country’s history, apart from the Great Depression era. Between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. population grew by an estimated 7.4 percent. That is a distinctly slower rate of growth than that of the previous decade, when the United States’ population grew by just under ten percent.

Interestingly—some would say surprisingly—immigration does not seem to have much to do with this slowdown: indirect indications suggest net immigration amounted to about a million people a year over the 2010s, roughly the same level as in the previous decade. Rather, changes in birth and death trends explain the shift. “Natural increase”—the total number of births minus deaths—averaged 1.7 million annually for the decade between 2000 and 2009 but just 1.2 million between 2010 and 2019. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it fell below 900,000, the lowest annual sum on record since at least 1933, when the United States’ nationwide birth and death registration system was completed.

The falloff in U.S. natural increase in the 2010s was partly due to an increase in annual deaths—an entirely predictable result of the aging of the overall population. But the slump in births played a greater role. Birth totals in 2019 were down by over half a million from their all-time high of 4.3 million in 2007, just before the Great Recession.

Total fertility rates—a measure of births per woman per lifetime—tell the American childbearing story on a more human scale. For the two decades leading up to the Great Recession, the United States’ total fertility rate averaged just over two births per woman. Between 2007 and 2019, however, the U.S. rate dropped from over 2.1 (just above the level for long-term population replacement) to 1.7, below replacement level. That was the lowest rate ever recorded for the United States—until now. The provisional birth figures for 2020 indicate another four percent drop, to about 3.6 million,  implying a 2020 national total fertility rate of around 1.64—more than 20 percent below replacement level.

The available data document a substantial and remarkably widespread fertility reduction since the Great Recession. Demographers are wary of supplying definitive reasons for such changes. Economic concerns may play a part, with some blamingthe high costs of child-rearing for their reluctance to have more children or any children at all. Younger generations may also have different priorities and cultural attitudes from those of their predecessors; the rising cohort of millennials, who make up most of today’s population of childbearing ages, is decidedly less religious and also less sanguine about the future.

AN ENDURING ADVANTAGE

But the demographic future remains relatively bright for the United States. The 2020 census results seem far from harbingers of doom, especially when placed in a broader context. Take, for instance, some of the low-end projections of future U.S. population growth. The UN Population Division’s “low variant” models are instructive: these assign the United States a total fertility rate below 1.4 for the second half of the 2020s—a nationwide average lower, in other words, than that of any single U.S. state in 2019—and an even lower rate during the 2030s and 2040s. Even with this strikingly low fertility rate, the projected U.S. population would still rise for the next generation, peaking in 2047 at just under 350 million people, where it would roughly remain through 2050. The number of working-age people would likewise rise modestly during the next quarter century in this scenario—to a projected 2050 level about five percent higher than the corresponding total for 2020.

As that exercise demonstrates, the 2020 census results should not cause a “depopulationist” panic. Even with extreme and unrelenting sub-replacement fertility levels, the United States’ total population and working-age population are on course to keep growing. Continuing migration and the “population momentum” built into the United States’ current demographic structure (as rising cohorts move into age groups currently occupied by comparatively smaller cohorts) would push the overall U.S. population and working-age population to higher totals for at least another generation.

As a result, the United States will likely retain a demographic edge over other great powers. China, Japan, Russia, and the countries of the European Union have all had sub-replacement fertility rates for much longer than the United States. Their current fertility levels are all lower than that of the United States. And their populations are all older than the U.S. population today. (China has the most youthful population of those other powers, but its median age has already exceeded that of the United States.)

The United States’ most recent year of achieving replacement-level fertility was 2008. By contrast, Japan and the EU fell into sub-replacement fertility in the 1970s, China and Russia in the early 1990s. Although the United States’ surfeit of births over deaths has been steadily dwindling for over a decade, deaths have outnumbered births in the EU since about 2012, and Eurostat projects the combined population of the 27 EU member states will begin shrinking around 2025. Japan has had a surplus of deaths over births since 2007 and a continuously shrinking population since 2011. Russia has seen nearly 14 million more deaths than births since the fall of the Soviet Union.

As for China (as I noted in Foreign Affairs back in 2019 and again this year), the working-age population is already in decline; depopulation is set to commence within the coming decade—perhaps much sooner—and the country is on a path toward extremely rapid population aging, with all that implies for economic performance and domestic social need. The particulars of China’s future demographic course will become clearer when the details of China’s 2020 census are divulged—but Beijing’s unexplained month-long delay in announcing even summary findings from the count suggests official displeasure with those results. Among other unpleasant demographic surprises, the Chinese Communist Party has seen births plunge since the suspension of the regime’s harsh one-child policy in 2015. China’s still imperfect vital registration system tallied almost 18 million births in 2016, but the 2020 census reports only 12 million births in 2020. That extremely low reading may reflect the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic (a crisis the regime insists it has always had well under control)—but as demographers learn more, they may find that China’s demographic slide is progressing even more rapidly than they thought.

Of all the presumptive great powers, only India stands to see greater and more rapid total population and working-age population growth than the United States over the coming generation and to remain a more youthful society than the United States. As is well known, in just a few years India will displace China as the world’s most populous country and will surpass China in working-age population shortly after that. But India is now entering sub-replacement fertility, too: UN estimates suggest India’s under 20 population is already declining, and India’s working-age population could peak before 2050.

QUALITY, NOT JUST QUANTITY

The dip in fertility in the United States does suggest that clear-cut U.S. demographic exceptionalism may be over, at least for the time being. The United States will likely surrender its place as the third most populous country in the world to Nigeria at some point before 2050. But it will remain a fairly young and vital society, at least with respect to other developed countries and to competitors such as China and Russia.

Nevertheless, U.S. strategists and policymakers should not take too much comfort in this fact. Raw population numbers won’t on their own strengthen the United States in its competition with others. The United States must also maintain its edge over competitors in developing human capital—a lead that has been dwindling for decades. Revitalizing health, education, and other facets of the country’s human resource base is an urgent task in its own right—and will pay geopolitical dividends.

Source: https://link.foreignaffairs.com/click/23941018.88243/aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZm9yZWlnbmFmZmFpcnMuY29tL2FydGljbGVzL3VuaXRlZC1zdGF0ZXMvMjAyMS0wNS0yNC9hbWVyaWNhLWhhc250LWxvc3QtaXRzLWRlbW9ncmFwaGljLWFkdmFudGFnZT91dG1fbWVkaXVtPW5ld3NsZXR0ZXJzJnV0bV9zb3VyY2U9ZmF0b2RheSZ1dG1fY2FtcGFpZ249QW1lcmljYSUyMEhhc24lRTIlODAlOTl0JTIwTG9zdCUyMEl0cyUyMERlbW9ncmFwaGljJTIwQWR2YW50YWdlJnV0bV9jb250ZW50PTIwMjEwNTI0/5e19405c52ba1e34bd567ea3Cc9732586

Krugman: Learning to Live With Low Fertility

Interesting, rather than advocating for higher levels of immigration, Krugman takes the alternate take of adapting to lower fertility and population growth. Canadian governments, policy makers and advocates would be wise to also consider this alternate scenario:

Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported much higher inflation than almost anyone predicted, and inflationistas — people who always predict runaway price rises, and have always been wrong — seized on the news as proof that this time the wolf is real.

Financial markets, however, took it in stride. Stocks fell on the report, but they soon made up most of the losses.

Bond yields rose only slightly on the news, then ended the weekright where they started — namely, extremely low.

Why so little reaction to the inflation news? Part of the answer, presumably, was that once investors had time to digest the details they realized that there was little sign of a rise in underlying inflation; this was a blip reflecting what were probably one-time rises in the prices of used cars and hotel rooms.

Beyond that, however, is what I think is the realization that while we’re achieving dramatic, almost miraculous success in defeating Covid-19, once the pandemic subsides we’re likely to be in an environment of sustained low interest rates as a result of weak investment demand. And the biggest reason for that low-rate environment is plunging fertility, which implies slow or even negative growth in the number of Americans in their prime working years.

This isn’t a new issue. Last month’s census report showing the lowest U.S. population growth since the 1930s only confirmed what everyone studying the subject already knew. And America is relatively late to this party. Japan’s working-age population has been declining since the mid-1990s. The euro area has been on the downslope since 2009. Even China is starting to look like Japan, a legacy of its one-child policy.

Is stagnant or declining population a big economic problem? It doesn’t have to be. In fact, in a world of limited resources and major environmental problems there’s something to be said for a reduction in population pressure. But we need to think about policy differently in a flat-population economy than we did in the days when maturing baby boomers were rapidly swelling the potential work force.

OK, let me admit that there is one real issue: An aging population means fewer active workers per retiree, which raises some fiscal issues. But this problem is often exaggerated. Remember all the panic about how Social Security couldn’t survive the burden of retiring boomers? Well, many boomers have already retired; by 2025 most of the growth in the number of beneficiaries per worker caused by retiring baby boomers will already have occurred. Yet there’s no crisis.

There is, however, a different issue with low population growth. To maintain full employment, a market economy must persuade businesses to invest all the money households want to save. Yet a lot of investment demand is driven by population growth, as new families need newly built houses, new workers require the construction of new office buildings and factories, and so on.

So low population growth can cause persistent spending weakness, a phenomenon diagnosed in 1938 by the economist Alvin Hansen, who awkwardly dubbed it “secular stagnation.” The term and concept have been revived recently by Larry Summers, and on this issue I think he’s right.

Secular stagnation can be a problem, because if interest rates are very low even in good times there’s not much room for the Fed to cut rates during recessions. But a low-interest-rate world can also offer major policy opportunities — if we’re willing to think clearly.

For what we’re looking at here is a world awash in savings with nowhere to go: Households are eager to lend money out, but businesses don’t see enough good investment opportunities. (Bitcoin doesn’t count.) Well, why not put the money to work for the public good? Why not borrow cheaply and use the funds to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, invest in the health and education of our children, and more? This would be good for our society, good for the future, and would also provide a cushion against future recessions.

What about the burden of debt, you ask? Well, federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. is twice what it was in 1990, but interest payments on the debt are only about half as high. That’s what low borrowing costs — largely a byproduct of demographic stagnation — do.

So, are the Biden administration’s infrastructure and family proposals the kind of things I have in mind? They’re a gratifying step in the right direction. But they aren’t nearly as ambitious as they’re often portrayed, and to my mind they’re too fiscally responsible — the administration is excessively concerned with paying for its plans.

The fact is that, like it or not, we’re going to be living for a long time with very slow population growth. And we need to start thinking about economic policy with that reality in mind.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/17/opinion/low-population-growth-economy-inflation.html

Ibbitson: China’s population decline poses challenges and opportunities

We need to broaden thinking beyond “more immigration is the solution” to how Canada could adapt to a world of population decline, where fewer higher-skilled Chinese and other groups may wish to come here:

China is reportedly holding back census data because it shows the country’s population has started to decline, years ahead of even the most aggressive predictions.

If so, every game changes: global warming projections, global population projections, geopolitical and economic projections.

The world’s most populous nation is now a nation on the wane.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that China has delayed the release of its 2020 census, which was expected earlier this month, because the data reveals that China’s population has declined from a peak of more than 1.4 billion in 2019 to less than 1.4 billion now.

If true, this is one of the most momentous events of our time. Many analyses of the geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States are predicated on the assumption of continued Chinese growth and relative American decline.

But it now appears United Nations population projections, which had China’s population peaking in the 2030s before levelling off and gradually starting to decline, were off by more than a decade.

The reason, according to a report this month by the Bank of China, is steadily falling fertility. Even after the ban on more than one child per family was lifted in 2015, China’s fertility continued to fall, to a level well below that needed to sustain the population.

For that reason, Darrell Bricker and I, in our book Empty Planet, predicted that population decline would hit China sooner and harder than expected. The question was how soon and how hard. If the answer to the first question is right now, then China could lose nearly half its population by the end of the century – more if fertility continues to fall.

The decline could have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has suppressed birth rates across much of the world, as couples put off having a child during this period of economic insecurity. A post-pandemic baby boom is unlikely: Past experience shows that once couples put off having a child, they don’t make up for it later on. Instead, they settle for having fewer children than they’d planned.

Population decline will present both opportunities and challenges for China. Environmentally, the news is encouraging: There will be fewer new coal-fired generating stations needed, as the number of people on the grid goes down instead of up.

The problem of labour shortages could be addressed by bringing in temporary foreign workers and improving productivity through automation.

But preserving economic growth becomes difficult when there are fewer young people every year buying their first refrigerator, their first car, their first baby stroller. Fewer young consumers also means fewer taxpayers to sustain the pensions and health care costs of older people, and fewer adult children to look after the needs of aging parents.

Countries that lose population every year stagnate economically: Italy, Spain, Japan. China is the new Japan. And that could lead to problems containing the discontent of an overtaxed, overworked, increasingly frustrated population. China announced this week that it planned to gradually raise the age of mandatory retirement, which is currently 60 for most men.

This delivers a huge competitive advantage to the United States. That country’s fertility rate has also reached record lows. But despite the effort of former president Donald Trump to seal the country’s borders, the U.S. continues to let in immigrants, both legal and illegal.

The U.S. needs to return, as quickly as possible, to its former practice of welcoming a million new permanent residents each year. That may be difficult, given rising nativism among conservatives, but if Americans want to stay ahead in the race for economic and political power, immigration is the not-so-secret weapon.

In any event, as my colleague Doug Saunders noted Tuesday on Twitter, the news about the Chinese census “will help make immigration a seller’s market.” As fertility rates decline in China and other source countries, such as Philippines and India, and as labour shortages grow in China, Japan and elsewhere, the question for immigrant-friendly countries such as Canada will shift from “how many should we let in?” to “how many can we convince to come?”

That is another reasons why former prime minister Brian Mulroney and others are right to maintain that Canada should greatly increase its immigration intake. We need to get them while we still can.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-chinas-population-decline-poses-challenges-and-opportunities/

Canada will have to rely on immigration as global fertility rate plummets: study

More on demographic trends, without asking whether there are policy alternatives to increased immigration or accounting for the likely impact of increased automation and AI:

Canada’s current openness to immigration must continue if the country wants to maintain one of the world’s largest economies for the rest of the century, according to a new study projecting global population and economic trends between now and 2100.

The study, which was published Tuesday in The Lancet, primarily focuses on an anticipated decline in the world population as fertility rates fall in the second half of the 21st century.

It forecasts that the global population will peak in 2064 at 9.73 billion people. By 2100 – less than two generations later – that number will be nearly one billion lower, and nearly three-quarters of the 195 nations included in the study will not be producing enough children to maintain their workforces.

“Once global population decline begins, it will probably continue inexorably,” the researchers behind the study wrote.

The study predicts that Canada’s population will peak later in the century, at nearly 45.2 million in 2078, and fall slightly to 44.1 million by 2100.

According to the researchers, a declining population is “potentially good news” for the battle against climate change, but not enough on its own to save the planet from serious environmental effects.

Shrinking populations can also cause economic damage, as fewer people are available to work. One way to offset this is by accepting large numbers of immigrants to make up the difference, as Canada has been doing for decades.

The researchers expect Canada to become an even more prominent immigration hub over the next 80 years, forecasting us to have the world’s highest net migration rate – immigrants minus emigrants – by 2100, ahead of Turkey and Sweden. This would happen despite the current “steady stream” of migrants drying up somewhat, as developing nations improve their education systems and quality of life.

All that immigration would see Canada replacing Russia as the world 10th-largest economy by 2030 and remaining there for the rest of the century, even as Nigeria and Australia bump Brazil and Italy out of the top 10, according to the forecast.

“As long as these immigration policies continue, our reference scenario showed sustained population growth and workforce expansion … with concomitant economic growth,” the researchers wrote.

“The optimal strategy for economic growth, fiscal stability, and geopolitical security is liberal immigration with effective assimilation into these societies.”

In countries where immigration is not used to maintain the workforce and GDP, the researchers wrote, governments may instead look to create incentives for parents to have more children, such as baby bonuses and paid parental leave. They warned that there is also a “very real danger” that “some states might consider adopting policies that restrict female reproductive health rights.”

Not taking any action to maintain the size of the workforce could leave countries in a position where they have to significantly increase taxes or run the risk that health insurance and social security programs could collapse, the researchers said.

The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and carried out by researchers at the University of Washington.

NOT SET IN STONE

In addition to their overall projections, the researchers looked at what would happen if the worldsped up or slowed down its progress on meeting the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDG) regarding female educational attainment and contraceptive need. “Many countries are not on track” to achieve those goals, they said.

These factors make a significant difference in the forecasts. Slower movement toward those goals would result in a global population of 13.6 billion and still rising in 2100, the researchers found, while the pace required to fully meet the SDGs by 2100 would see the world’s population peak in 2046 and fall to 6.29 billion by the end of the century as fertility rates plummet.

The differences are less stark in Canada, where migration is expected to have a much larger impact than global fertility patterns on population trends. The study forecasts that with slower progress toward SDGs, Canada’s population would peak in 2086 at just over 46.1 million – less than one million more than the projection based on the current pace. Meeting the SDGs by 2100 would have a bigger impact, with the population peaking around 42 million in the mid-2050s and dropping to 37 million by 2100.

The researchers say these large variations show the effect political policies can have on long-term population and economic outcomes.

“Understanding potential patterns in future population levels is crucial for anticipating and planning for changing age structures, resource and health-care needs, and environmental and economic landscapes,” they wrote.

Other highlights from the study’s projections of the world in 2100 include:

  • The five largest countries, by population, will be India, Nigeria, China, the U.S. and Pakistan

  • China will have barely half of its current population, while India’s will be down by roughly 300 million and the American population will be relatively unchanged

  • Japan, Spain, Italy and 20 other nations will lose half or more of their 2017 population

  • Nearly half of the world’s population will be in Africa as the population of the sub-Saharan part of the continent triples

  • Life expectancies will continue to rise, albeit slowly, nearing 89 years in the most advanced countries

  • The mean age of a human, which was 32.6 in 2017, will be at 46.2

  • There will be more than six times as many people over the age of 80 as there were in 2017

  • The number of children under the age of five will be 41 per cent lower than it was in 2017

  • Although China will eclipse the U.S. as the world’s largest economic power by 2035, the U.S. will retake that title in 2098

Source: Canada will have to rely on immigration as global fertility rate plummets: study

Canada’s demographic gap can’t be filled with immigrants

Jason Kirby on the limits on immigration to address the aging population and the economic integration challenges immigrants face:

This isn’t to say immigrants can’t mitigate the effects of Canada’s aging population. This country’s ability to absorb people from diverse cultures is an advantage remarkably few other nations enjoy.

As it is, immigrants are already a major driver of Canada’s labour force. In Toronto, for instance immigrants now account for nearly 51 per cent of the city’s labour force. It’s slightly less in Vancouver (41 per cent) and lower still in Montreal (26 per cent) but all three cities have seen immigrants grow as a share of the labour force over the past few years.

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There’s a problem here too, though. New immigrants don’t fare well in Canada’s job market. The unemployment rate among immigrants who landed in Canada within the last five years has, on average, been more than double that of Canadian-born workers over the last decade. Those who came between five and 10 years ago are a bit better off—their unemployment rate is about 1.5 times higher. It’s only among immigrants who’ve been in the country for more than a decade that the gap with Canadian-born workers is erased. It shows that even if Canada ramps up the number of newcomers it accepts, their performance in the labour market will surely lag for years.

The experience over the last year with the influx of more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, who are included in this year’s higher immigration count, has shown how challenging it is to quickly integrate large numbers of people. So too has the backlash in Vancouver against homebuyers from mainland China (and the murky question of who is a foreign buyer and who is a genuine immigrant) even as Canada works to double the number of visa offices in that country. Meanwhile, Canada may pride itself on being more open and tolerant of immigrants, especially in contrast to the ugliness going on in the U.S. and Europe, yet internal polling carried out by Immigration Canada shows one quarter of Canadians feel immigration levels are too high as it is. The news of this year’s immigration boom does not sit well with them.

Which is silly, really, because despite that headline-grabbing number of new immigrants, their number works out to just 0.8 per cent of Canada’s population, or 0.1 percentage points higher than the average of the last 20 years. Some boom.

Source: Canada’s demographic gap can’t be filled with immigrants – Macleans.ca