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America's population isn't growing as fast as it used to

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

America's population isn't growing as fast as it used to. Last year marked the lowest growth pace in American history. In fact, growth has been leveling off since at least the 2010s. Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic. In an article published earlier this week, he argues that a combination of low births, high deaths and heavy restrictions on immigration are harmful to the country. So we asked him why it matters that the U.S. isn't growing as fast as it used to.

DEREK THOMPSON: First, we want America to grow fast because of what it means for the future of America. A larger America is stronger geopolitically. We can stand up to countries like, let's say, Russia or even China. Second, I think it's important to say that we should want America to grow because all the reasons that America is not growing today are bad for Americans alive today. We should want births to increase, not because it's just fantastic for people to have five, six, seven kids, even if they don't want to, but rather because we should want parents to have the number of children they want to have. But America, which offers the smallest amount of support for children of just about any OECD country, cashes out as parents having significantly fewer children than they want to have. That's bad. The fact that a million Americans have died of the pandemic, that's bad. The fact that immigration has crashed in the last six years is also bad for America.

SNELL: It sounds like a lot of what you're talking about here is a significant change in the way Americans experience the America that we know.

THOMPSON: That's interesting way to put it. I think that Americans are used to an America that grows. But we are looking at a future of America where births are declining, deaths are increasing and immigration is falling as well. This could give us an America that we're not used to - a shrinking or stagnant America where if you think the culture wars are bad today because of the perception of a zero-sum country, just imagine how bad the culture wars are going to be when America stops growing, where one state growing is happening at the expense of another state shrinking.

SNELL: I'm glad you mention the difference geographically, because I thought that was an interesting part of your piece, was that, you know, certain communities in the U.S. are growing slower than others. And so this isn't just a whole picture change to the U.S. This is, you know, regional changes, right?

THOMPSON: Sure. You definitely see that there are certain parts of the country that are declining in population and certain parts of the country that are growing in population because of where Americans are moving within the country. So the Midwest seems to be shrinking. The Northeast seems to be stagnant. And then Florida and Texas are absolutely booming. So we are seeing both regional changes, and we're seeing national changes.

SNELL: So what happens, and how quickly does it happen if nothing changes in the U.S.?

THOMPSON: Well, I think there's a couple things that really have to change. I would love to see public policy become more family friendly. I don't see any reason why this should be a partisan issue. Second, I understand why immigration is a third rail of American politics. But in the biggest picture, immigration is a geopolitical cheat code for the U.S. If we want to supercharge science and innovation, we should recognize that immigration will get us there. So why are we in the process of allowing immigration to crash when we recognize that immigration has all of these benefits? I think we need a moment of sanity in this country to drive out of the demographic danger zone and craft policies that allow families to have the number of children they say they actually want and to increase immigration rates in this country. A country that stops growing is a zero-sum country. And zero-sum countries lead to zero-sum games. Zero-sum games lead to culture wars.

SNELL: That's Derek Thompson, a staff writer for The Atlantic. Thanks, Derek.

THOMPSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.
Kathryn Fox