For two consecutive years since 2009, the population has grown just 0.7% a year, down from annual increases around 1% in previous years and the lowest since the late 1930s. The U.S. gained 2.2 million people from 2010 to 2011—fewer than the 2.8 million added a decade earlier—reaching a total of 311.6 million.
“Almost anybody who observes these things over the years can say this is almost all recession-related,” says Carl Haub, demographer for the Population Reference Bureau.
The government says the recession ended in June 2009. Although the economy has improved, the downturn’s effect on birth and immigration lingers. The number of babies born from July 1, 2010, to July 2011 dropped 200,000 from the same period in 2008-09. The number of additional immigrants fell 150,000.
The U.S. fertility rate—which has been close to the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman in contrast to many developed nations that are well below that level—now is estimated to have fallen to 1.9, says demographer Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division and more recently research director at the Center for Migration Studies.