America will increasingly become a nation of immigrants, with foreign-born residents making up 15 percent of the population within 20 years, surpassing the last peak set in 1910, according to projections released Monday by the Pew Hispanic Center.
By 2050, the nation's population will have increased from 296 million in 2005 to 438 million. New immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants will account for 82 percent of the growth, the Washington D.C.-based research organization estimated.
Nearly one in five people in the country in 2050 will be an immigrant, compared with one in eight in 2005.
Whites will be a minority of the population in 2050 at 47 percent, while the percentage of the population that is Hispanic, which was 14 percent in 2005, will increase to 29 percent. The study projects the percentage of Asians will almost double during the same period, from 5 percent to 9 percent, while the percentage of African Americans will remain essentially the same, going from 12.8 to 13.4 percent.
"If current trends continue, the demographic profile of the United States will change dramatically by the middle of this century," study authors Jeffrey S. Passel and D'Vera Cohn wrote in their analysis of the projections.
Paul Taylor, acting director of the nonpartisan center, cautioned that the projections were not predictions and were less reliable for years further in the future. The projections are based on births, deaths and — the most volatile element — immigration rates, which could change significantly depending on policy decisions. The study does not distinguish between authorized and unauthorized immigration.
Taylor said the center, which usually analyzes current trends related to Hispanics and immigration, decided to study population growth and changes because of the potential impact on the nation's tax base, work force and government spending on a range of services, from schools to health care.
The center used higher estimates of immigration rates than recent reports by such government agencies as the Social Security Administration, which has been criticized by some demographers for using constant or decreasing immigration rates.
Immigrants, particularly Hispanics, will play an increasingly important role in the work force. A combination of the aging of baby boomers and low birth rates among non-Hispanic whites will lead to a decrease in their percentage in the work force, from 68 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2050. Immigration and higher birth rates will see Hispanics, now 14 percent of the work force, increase to 31 percent.
Pew officials said several states, including California and Florida, already have populations similar to what they are projecting for the entire country. The trends also are emerging in Connecticut, where the latest wave of immigrants has only recently arrived.
"This is something we are seeing in Connecticut," West Hartford economist Ron Van Winkle said. "Almost all the population increase we have is due to international migration."
He described the state as having a "mature, slow-growing economy," and without the infusion of immigrants "we'd have a smaller economy, we'd have less wealth and we'd have jobs leaving the state because they couldn't be filled."
He acknowledged education costs can increase as immigrants bring their children with them or start families here, but said the eventual payoff for the economy was worth the investment. Health care costs also can increase initially, but stabilize as immigrants become part of the mainstream work force.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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