Thursday, August 14, 2008

Where are we going to put all of these people?

Sam Roberts reports in today's NYT that minorities are likely to be a majority of our nation's population by 2042. An earlier estimate, in 2004, had suggested that this would not happen until 2050, but the forecast has been revised based on "significantly higher birthrates among immigrants. Another factor is the influx of foreigners, rising from about 1.3 million today to more than 2 million a year by midcentury, according to projections based on current immigration policies."

The story also reports that our nation's population will top 400 million in 2039, just 33 years after it hit 300 million, in 2006. By 2050, the population is projected to be 439 million. As a similar story on NPR reported today, this will be like adding the populations of France and Great Britain to the United States in the next several decades.

The important cultural and economic implications of this news aside for a moment, one thing that struck me upon hearing this was: where are we going to put all of these people? In part, I am thinking about the environmental and ecological implications of such growth. Of course, we are a large nation in terms of land area, and there is some room to grow. But our cities are already jam packed and spawling, which is one reason that immigrants increasingly settle in nonmetropolitan places. (See, e.g., a Carsey Institute report here and a USDA ERS report here).

In short, this story should give us added motivation to care about rural and nonmetro places, which will increasingly absorb our burgeoning population. Already immigrants are providing a proverbial "shot in the arm" economically for some nonmetro communities. As a nation, we should be helping these communities formulate policies for smart growth (which in many cases will result in them becoming metropolitan communities; consider the changes in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Arkansas MSA in recent decades), and we should be thinking about social service and other programs to help integrate these newcomers into rural communities, many of which have long been static and homogeneous. (Some of my initial thoughts on this migration into the nonmetro South are here).

No comments: