Posted on February 17, 2005

Immigrant Stock’s Share of U.S. Population Growth: 1970-2004

Federation for American Immigration Reform, February 2005


The United States is on the verge of surpassing 300 million in population, and all projections indicate that the country is headed toward a population of at least half a billion people by mid-century. These are not abstract numbers. They will have a profound effect on every aspect of life in America, and on the rest of the world.

Issues of the environment and resource consumption are inextricably linked to the size of the U.S. population. The United States already consumes a far disproportionate share of many non-renewable resources, particularly energy resources. Conversely, this country is also responsible for far more than its share of the emission of greenhouse gases and the erosion of the ozone layer.

At home, our natural habitats and open lands are being lost to urban sprawl at an alarming rate. Under the pressure of a rapidly growing population, agricultural lands—that provide not only for our own needs, but feed millions of people around the world—are another casualty of current demographic trends. Increased environmental degradation, over-consumption and congestion—the inevitable by products of rapid population—add up to a declining quality of life for Americans of today and for future generations.

Ironically, the damage we are causing as a result of rapid population growth is self-inflicted. America’s race to emulate countries like India and China is primarily the consequence of one policy: immigration. Over the past 35 years, an increasing share of U.S. population growth is attributable to an unprecedented influx of immigration. Over the coming 35 years, that policy—unless it is changed—plus the legacy of immigration since 1970, will account for nearly all the population increase that this country will experience.

As this study will demonstrate, changes made to our policies in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 have created a small, but heavily vested constituency that is driving the immigration level—and population—inexorably higher. The 1965 act concentrated the economic and political benefits of large-scale immigration in the hands of a relatively small array of interest groups, and set this country on the course of massive population increases at a time when most of the rest of the developed world was achieving population stability.

But for our current immigration policies, America, too, would have achieved a stable population size, allowing this country to address many of the social, economic and environmental issues that confront us. We cannot undo the past 35 years, but as this study suggests, we can reach rational decisions about where this nation is headed in the next 35 years and beyond. It all hinges on our willingness to address our immigration policies, or whether we choose to allow those policies to dictate the future to us.

Executive Summary

  • The large and rapidly growing immigration stock in the United States (immigrants plus their children) may be attributed to the immigrant-friendly polices that the government has adopted since 1965, to the failure to effectively deal with a surging population of illegal residents, and also to the higher fertility level of foreign-born women compared to native-born women.
  • Between 1970 and 2004, more than half of the post-1970 increase in the U.S. population is attributable to the increase in the immigrant stock.
  • Throughout the 1970 to 2004 period, both the number and the share of U.S. population change attributable to post-1970 immigration has increased each decade. For the 2000 to 2004 period, the increase in the immigrant stock accounted for about 62 percent of the overall U.S. population growth.
  • The estimated increase in the U.S. population since 2000, if continued for the remainder of this decade, will result in a population increase of more than 30 million people, about 19 million of whom will result from the increase in the foreign stock.
  • Much of the increase in the foreign-stock population is concentrated in the South, West, East and Northeast of the United States.
  • In several states, i.e., Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, the share of increase attributable to post-1970 immigration is more than 100 percent because the native-born population decreased at the same time that the immigrant stock was rising.
  • When the focus is confined to just the past 14 years, California is added to the list of states where post-1970 immigration has been more than 100 percent of the overall population in-crease.
  • In an additional four states (Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio), the increase in the post-1970 immigrant stock population over the past 34 years accounted for more than half of the state’s population increase. North Dakota is in this category too, except that the state’s population has decreased slightly over this period, rather than increased.
  • During this 34-year period, an astounding 34.2 million people have been added to the population in just eight states, all of which added more than one million persons, as a result of post-1970 immigration. More than one-third of that increase was in California. The other states were also traditional “high impact” states such as Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. But, also included were Massachusetts, and Arizona.
  • Further demonstrating how the current wave of immigration has spilled out over the country, eight other states had population increases of more than half a million people over this period from post-1970 immigration. They are Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.
  • While the non-Hispanic white foreign-stock population has been growing at a very slow and steady rate, the Mexican, the other Hispanic, and the Asian populations have been increasing at an astounding rate over the last three decades. This is due to the change in the pattern of immigration and to the birth rates to those immigrants.

Overpopulation is a crucial problem for society because it creates overcrowding in schools, highways, and community facilities. It depletes natural resources and also requires the diversion of large amounts of federal and local funds from other pressing needs. Although a non-partisan national commission recommended policy changes to lessen this rapid population increase , and some policymakers have supported efforts to slow the immigration process, little has been achieved.

The findings of this study indicate that more must be done in terms of immigration policy changes and to curtail illegal immigration the government must provide additional efforts and resources. Until policymakers tackle serious immigration reform in order to stabilize the nation’s population and provide for a better future for the next generation, they should temporarily halt all but core immigration programs and foreswear any further amnesty for illegal aliens.