‘Stunning’: US population grew at slowest pace on record in 2021

COVID pandemic, decreased migration and fewer births among reasons for low population growth, US Census Bureau says.

The US population grew by about 393,000 in 2021, an historic low of 0.1 percent, according to new estimates released by the Census Bureau [File: LM Otero/AP Photo]

The population of the United States grew more slowly in 2021 than in any year on record, the US Census Bureau has reported, pointing to the coronavirus pandemic, economic shutdowns, and reductions in migration and births as key factors.

The US population grew by about 393,000 in 2021, an historic low of 0.1 percent, according to new estimates released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday.

That is the slowest rate of growth on record since 1900 and slower than previous lows during the influenza pandemic and World War I, and the Great Depression of the 1930s, said Luke Rogers, chief of the Census Bureau’s population estimates branch.

“The slow rate of growth can be attributed to decreased net international migration, decreased fertility, and increased mortality due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the bureau said.

William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, said the data “tells us that this [coronavirus] pandemic has had a huge impact on us in all kinds of ways, and now demography”.

The population in New York continued to decline in 2021 while other states in the US West gained [File: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo]

Census data released in September showed the US poverty rate in 2020 had risen from a 60-year low, as millions lost jobs as a result of coronavirus-related economic shutdowns. At the same time, the US has been becoming more diverse as the white population declines.

The population estimates are derived from calculating the number of births, deaths and migration in the US. Population growth has been trending lower in the US since 2016 due to decreasing fertility and migration, and increasing mortality among an ageing population.

The new Census Bureau estimates show births outnumbered deaths by only 148,000, the smallest spread in more than 80 years, according to demographers.

Meanwhile, the US has recorded the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the world, with more than 800,000 deaths recorded to date, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

At the same time, net migration into the US of nearly 245,000 people from other countries was lower than prior years, continuing a downward trend.

University of New Hampshire demographer Kenneth Johnson said the decline in US growth was “stunning”.

“Of course, most of this is COVID, but not all of it,” Johnson told The Associated Press news agency. “US natural increase was already at a low ebb prior to COVID with the fertility rate hitting a new record low each year and deaths steadily rising due to the population ageing,” he said.

Since April 1, 2020, the nation’s total population increased from 331.4 million to 331.8 million, the bureau’s estimates showed.

Even as the overall population growth was waning, some areas of the US saw greater increases in residents while others suffered declines, primarily through domestic movements.

Between 2020 and 2021, 33 states saw population increases, while 17 states and Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, lost population.

Mountain states in the western US saw the biggest year-over-year growth, with Idaho growing by almost 3 percent, and Utah and Montana each seeing population increases of 1.7 percent.

Washington, DC, lost 2.9 percent of its population, while New York lost 1.6 percent and Illinois lost 1.6 percent.

Source: News Agencies