The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The United States, the third most populous country globally, accounts for about 4.6% of the
world’s population. Within the next few years, the U.S. population—currently estimated at 299
million persons—is expected to reach twice its 1950 level of 152 million. More than just being
double in size, the population has become qualitatively different from what it was in 1950. As
noted by the Population Reference Bureau, “The U.S. is getting bigger, older, and more diverse.”
The objective of this report is to highlight some of the demographic changes that have already
occurred since 1950 and to illustrate how these and future trends will reshape the nation in the
decades to come (through 2050).
The United States Is Getting Bigger. This report considers population change and the underlying
factors that contribute to population growth in the United States. These include increasing
survival due to declining mortality rates (especially for the three most prevalent causes of death),
fertility levels that are hovering around the generational “replacement” level, and trends in net
international migration wherein more migrants move into the United States than Americans who
The United States Is Getting Older. Aside from the total size, one of the most important
demographic characteristics of a population for public policy is its age and sex structure. This
report illustrates how the United States has been in the midst of a profound demographic change:
the rapid aging of its population, as reflected by an increasing proportion of persons aged 65 and
older, and an increasing median age in the population.
The United States Is Becoming More Racially and Ethnically Diverse, reflecting the major
influence that immigration has had on both the size and the age structure of the U.S. population.
This section considers the changing profile of the five major racial groups in the United States. In
addition, trends in the changing ethnic composition of the Hispanic or Latino Origin population
Although this report will not specifically discuss policy options to address the changing
demographic profile, it is important to recognize that the inexorable demographic momentum will
have important implications for the economic and social forces that will shape future societal
well-being. There is ample reason to believe that the United States will be able to cope with the
current and projected demographic changes if policymakers accelerate efforts to address and
adapt to the changing population profile as it relates to a number of essential domains, such as
work, retirement, and pensions, private wealth and income security, and the health and well-being
of the aging population. These topics are discussed briefly in the final section of this report. This
report will be updated as needed.
Population Size and Growth—The United States Is Getting Bigger.........................................1
Mort alit y ...................................................................................................................... ....... 6
The Changing Age Profile—The United States Is Getting Older...........................................12
Race and Ethnicity—The United States Is Becoming More Diverse......................................15
Race .................................................................................................................................. 15
Some Policy Considerations...................................................................................................20
Work, Retirement, and Pensions.......................................................................................20
Private Wealth and Income Security.................................................................................21
The Federal Budget and Inter-generational Equity...........................................................22
The Health of an Aging Population...................................................................................23
America’s Changing Color Lines......................................................................................24
Figure 1. U.S. Population, by Sex, 1950-2050, in Millions............................................................2
Figure 2. Population Growth, Birth, Death, and Net Immigration Rates: United States,
Figure 3. Crude and Age-adjusted Death Rates: United States, 1950-2003....................................7
Figure 4. Age-Sex Structure of the United States in Selected Years.............................................13
Figure 5. Hispanics and Non-Hispanics as Percentage of U.S. Population: 2000-2050...............20
Table 1. Trend in Birth Rates Between 2002 and 2003, by Age of Mother.....................................5
Table 2. U.S. Immigration and Emigration, by Decade: 1931-1990.............................................10
Table 3. U.S. Population, by Age Group: 1950-2050....................................................................12
Table 4. U.S. Population, by Race: 2000.......................................................................................17
Table 5. Projected U.S. Population, by Race: 2000 to 2050..........................................................17
Table 6. The Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Population in the United States, by Race: 2000..........19
Appendix. U.S. Population Growth Rates, Birth Rates, Death Rates, and Net Immigration
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................26
he United States, the third-largest population globally, accounts for about 4.6% of the 1
world’s population. The U.S. population—currently estimated at 298.6 million persons—2
is projected to reach twice its 1950 level of 152 million in year 2008. More than just T
being double in size, the U.S. population has become qualitatively different from what it was in
diverse.” The objective of this report is to highlight some of the demographic changes that have
already occurred since 1950 and to illustrate how these and future trends will reshape the nation 4
in the decades to come.
While this report will not discuss policy options, it is important to recognize that the inexorable
demographic momentum will produce an increasingly older population in the United States There
is ample reason to believe that the United States will be able to cope with the current and
projected changes if policymakers address and adapt to the changing demographic profile as it
relates to a number of essential domains such as work, retirement, and pensions, private wealth 5
and income security, transfer systems, and the health and well-being of the aging population.
These topics are discussed briefly in the final section of this report.
The U.S. population has experienced remarkable growth over the past half-century. From a base
of about 152 million Americans in 1950, an additional 131 million persons were added to the
population between 1950 and 2000 (the year of the most recent census), with the number of
additional women slightly outnumbering additional men (see Figure 1). This increase (of about
85%) in the size of the U.S. population was remarkable compared with other industrialized
countries. Germany and Italy, for instance, grew by only 20% and 22% respectively during the 6
same period. And, a number of countries, most notably in Eastern Europe, have recently
experienced absolute reductions in the size of their populations.
1 U.S. Census Bureau, POPclock, at http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html, accessed Apr. 28, 2006. This
corresponds to the net gain of one person every 11 seconds (calculated as one birth every 8 seconds; one death every 13
seconds; and one international (net) migrant every 31 seconds).
2 Congressional Research Service (CRS) calculations using data extracted from U.S. Census Bureau, International Data
Base (IDB), at http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idbnew.html.
3 P. Scommegna, U.S. growing bigger, older, and more diverse. Population Reference Bureau, Apr. 2004, at
4 Through year 2050 is considered in this report.
5 National Research Council, 2001, Preparing for an Aging World: The Case for Cross-National Research, Panel on a
Research Agenda and New Data for an Aging World, Committee on Population and Committee on National Statistics,
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Wash., DC: National Academy Press. (Hereafter cited as
National Research Council, Preparing for an Aging World, 2001).
6 CRS calculations based on data in United Nations, World Population Prospects: the 2004 Revision, Highlights,
United Nations: New York, 2005: ST/ESA/P/WP.193, available at http://www.un.org/esa/pop. (Hereafter cited as
United Nations, World Population Prospects: the 2004 Revision).
Figure 1. U.S. Population, by Sex, 1950-2050, in Millions
Sources: Congressional Research Service (CRS) calculations based on: (1) for 1950-1990 estimates, F. Hobbs & th
N. Stoops, Demographic Trends in the 20 Century, Census Bureau: CENSR-4, issued November 2002, and (2) for
2000-2050, U.S. Interim Projections by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin. Census Bureau, at http://www.census.gov/
Despite the growth of the U.S. population over this period, the United States’ share of the world’s
population has been declining as less developed, higher fertility countries have grown more
rapidly. Bangladesh and Nigeria, for instance, now rank #8 and #9 in total population size,
surpassing more developed countries—such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and 7
Italy—that are no longer among the world’s 10 most populous countries.
The Census Bureau projects that the U.S. population will continue to grow, to 420 million persons
by year 2050, albeit at a slower pace than the growth recorded over the past half-century. Note,
however, that population projections, which rely upon assumptions about the future courses of
mortality, fertility, and immigration are uncertain. More pessimistic growth projections are
offered by the United Nations and the Social Security Administration, which estimate that the 8
U.S. population will be 395 million or 390 million respectively in the same year.
7 Ibid. See also U.S. Census Bureau, International Population Reports WP/02, Global Population Profile: 2002, U.S.
Govt. Printing Office, Wash., D.C., 2004.
8 It is beyond the scope of this report to reconcile these differences. All projections are medium-variant, or what the
agencies consider to be the most likely scenario. See (1) United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2004
Revision; and (2) 2006 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivor’s Insurance and
Disability Insurance Funds. Washington DC: May 1, 2006, http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/TF06/tr06.pdf.
Figure 2. Population Growth, Birth, Death, and Net Immigration Rates: United
at Birth Rates
tes per 1,0
5.0RaNet Immigration Rates
1950 196 0 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020 2030 2040 2050
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) compilation based on historical and projected figures from the
U.S. Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
Notes: (1) Crude birth rate (CBR): the number of live births per 1,000 total population. Estimates for 1950-58
were adjusted by NCHS to correct for under-registration of births. (2) Crude death rate (CDR): the number of
deaths per 1,000 total population. (3) Net immigration rate: number of immigrants less number of emigrants per
1,000 total population.
Average annual growth rates9 for each 10-year intercensal period between 1950 and 2000 were
positive, but have generally been declining over time (see Figure 2 and Table 7). Expressed as a
percentage of the population at the beginning of the period, the average population growth rate in
the 1950s, for example, was 1.7% per annum while it was only 0.9% per year during the 1980s.
The Census Bureau assumes that the growth rate will remain positive through year 2050 but will
fall from its current level of about 0.9% per annum to 0.7%.
Trends in the size and growth of the U.S. population reflect the interactions of three underlying
• The role of human reproduction and the fertility behavior of American couples;
9 Population growth rate: the number of persons added to (or subtracted from) a population in a year due to natural
increase (births minus deaths) and net immigration per 1,000 persons in the population. Alternatively, the measure can
be expressed as a percentage of the population at the beginning of the time period.
• Trends in disease risk and subsequent mortality, and,
• The net effect of international immigration to and from the United States.
Figure 2 and Appendix Table A (at end of this report), in addition to highlighting the estimated
and projected trends in population growth for the period 1950-2050, also highlight trends and
projections for these three underlying components of population change. Characteristics of U.S.
fertility, mortality, and immigration are discussed in the following sections.
Average fertility in the United States reached a post-World War II maximum during the peak of
the “baby boom” in the late 1950s. The highest observed number of annual births (4.3 million)
and birth rates (25.3 births per 1,000 population) since 1950 were recorded in 1957. Steep
declines were observed in the 1960s and early 1970s, a broad trend that was also observed in
Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. U.S. birth rates since the early 1970s have 11
remained remarkably constant, mostly fluctuating in the mid-teens, and reached an all-time low
of 13.9 live births per 1,000 population in 2002. A slight increase to 14.1 live births per 1,000 12
population was observed in 2003, the most recent year for which final data are available.
Highlights of American fertility behavior in 2003 include the following:13
• There were approximately 4.1 million live births, an increase of 2% from 2002.
• The crude birth rate (CBR) increased 1% between 2002 and 2003, to 14.1 live
births per 1,000 total population. The CBR in year 2002, at 13.9/1,000
population, had been the lowest rate ever recorded for the United States.
• The general fertility rate (GFR), which relates births to the number of women in
their childbearing ages, was 66.1 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years,
also an increase from year 2002.
• Fertility rates, as measured by the GFR, increased for non-Hispanic white and
Hispanic women by 2% and 3%, respectively, but decreased slightly for non-
Hispanic black women. Fertility also increased for Asian and Pacific Islander
women but was essentially unchanged for American Indian women.
10 The Crude Birth Rate (CBR) is the primary measure of fertility used in this section because of its value in indicating
directly the contribution of fertility to the population growth rate. However, because the age and sex composition of a
population has a strong influence on the level of the CBR, additional measures to understand the underlying fertility
trends are also used.
11 Gregory Spencer, Preface, The Direction of Fertility in the United States. Conference proceedings for a conference
hosted by the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, Alexandria, VA, Oct. 2-3, 2001.
12 National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Births: Final Data for 2003, DHHS/CDC/ NCHS, vol. 54, no. 2, Sept. 8,
2005 (hereafter cited as NVSR, Births: Final Data for 2003). Note that preliminary data for 2004 have been released
and are available in NVSR, Births: Preliminary Data for 2004, vol. 54, no. 8, Dec. 29, 2005. Preliminary data for 2004
suggest that the birth rate fell to 14.0 in 2004.
13 NVSR, Births: Final Data for 2003.
• Fertility is slighting under the “replacement level” in 2003, for the 32nd 14
consecutive year. In 2003, there were, on average, 2.042 births per U.S. woman,
with total fertility rates below the replacement level for most groups of women.
However, rates for American women of Mexican origin (2.958) and “other”
Hispanics (2.733) were above replacement. Many European and Asian countries
or regions have levels of fertility that are considerably lower than in the United
States. For instance, Macao SAR (0.84), Hong Kong (0.94), Ukraine (1.12), 15
Czech Republic (1.17), and Slovakia (1.20) are all well below replacement.
• The mean age of all first-time mothers in the United States was 25.2 years in
2003, slightly higher than in 2002. This all-time high for American women attests
to the continuing tendency of women to postpone childbearing. Since 1970, the
mean age at first birth has risen 3.8 years (from 21.4 years). Mean age at first
birth varies considerably by race and Hispanic origin. Women of Asian and
Pacific Islander descent had the highest age at first birth (28.3 years), whereas
American Indian women had the lowest (21.8 years).
• Childbearing by unmarried women rose steeply in 2003. The number of births to
unmarried women climbed 4% to 1,415,995, the highest number recorded in the
more than six decades for which national data are available. The proportion of all
births to unmarried women increased to 34.6%; this measure has risen steadily
since the late 1990s.
• U.S. fertility trends differ by the age of the mother (Table 1). In general, birth
rates for “younger” women declined while those of older women increased.
Table 1. Trend in Birth Rates Between 2002 and 2003, by Age of Mother
Age of Rate per 1,000 Women in Age Trend Between 2002 and 2003
Mother Category in 2003
10-14 years 0.6 Declined. A one-third decline since 2000.
Declined. Fell 3% from previous year, a record low for the United States
15-19 years 41.6 Rate has plummeted by one-third since peak in 1991 (61.8)
20-24 years 102.6 Declined, the lowest rate on record for age group in the United States
25-29 years 115.6 Increased by 2%.
30-34 years 95.1 Increased. Highest rate recorded since the mid-1960s.
35-39 years 43.8 Increased. Highest rate recorded since the mid-1960s.
Increased. Highest rate recorded since 1969; rate for age group is up 58%
40-44 years 8.7 since 1990.
45-49 years 0.5 Unchanged.
Source: NSVR, Births: Final Data for 2003, vol. 54, no. 2, SepT. 8, 2005.
14 The replacement level of fertility measures the level of fertility and mortality in a population at which women will
replace themselves in a generation. It corresponds to a total fertility rate, or completed family size, of about 2.10 births
15 United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision.
Beyond the current year estimates presented above, the Census Bureau uses demographic
projection techniques to predict future trends in American fertility. They project that birth rates
will remain low through 2050, in the narrow range of 13.9-14.3 births per 1,000 persons annually.
Note, however, that future trends in fertility are notoriously difficult to predict and specialists
continually question the underlying assumptions of the models. Some experts are concerned that
stability in U.S. fertility may not continue, particularly in light of the declines that have occurred 16
in other developed countries. Others argue that very low fertility is not inevitable and that 17
fertility may return to higher levels. For instance, Morgan, in his address as president to the
membership of the Population Association of America, argued that there are both persistent 18
rationales for having children and institutional adjustments can make the widespread intentions
for having two children attainable, even in increasingly individualistic and egalitarian societies.
As is evident from Figures 2 and 3, crude death rates (CDR) in the United States have been
remarkably constant since 1950, fluctuating within the narrow range of 8.5 to 9.7 deaths per 19
are available, 2003.
In general, crude death rates are referred to as crude because they are influenced by two
underlying characteristics of a population, making it difficult to interpret trends in the CDR
without disentangling trends in these two underlying components:
• The population’s age structure. An older population generally has higher crude
death rates because a higher proportion of persons are in the older age groups
where death rates are higher.
• Mortality risk, or the likelihood of death at a particular age. The risk of mortality
reflects the health and disease profile of the underlying population, public health
and sanitation, the availability of and access to health care, the education of the
population, and other factors.
Age-adjusted death rates are better indicators (than crude rates) to measure mortality risk across 2122
time or across populations. If age-adjusted rates are considered for the United States over time,
16 J. Long, 2001, Introductory Remarks, The Direction of Fertility in the United States. Conference proceedings for a
conference hosted by the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, Alexandria, VA, Oct. 2-3, 2001.
17 S. P. Morgan, Is Low Fertility a Twenty-First Century Demographic Crisis? Demography vol. 40, no. 4, 2003, pp.
18 For instance, Rindfuss stressed the importance of affordable, quality child care in weakening the incompatibility of
work and childbearing and child-rearing. Bianchi stressed gender and technological changes that affected the division
of household labor. See (1) R.R. Rindfuss, “The Young Adult Years: Diversity, Structural Change, and Fertility,”
Demography, vol. 28, pp. 493-512, 1991. (2) S.M. Bianchi, “Maternal Employment and Time with Children: Dramatic
Change or Surprising Continuity?” Demography, vol. 37, pp. 401-14, 2000.
19 The crude death rate (CDR) is the primary measure of mortality used in this section to show the contribution of
mortality to the population growth rate.
20 See National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Final Data for 2003, DHHS/CDC/NCHS, vol. 54, no. 13,
Apr. 19, 2006. (Hereafter cited as NVSR, Deaths: Final Data for 2003). Note that preliminary data on deaths in 2004
suggests that the CDR has fallen further to 8.2 deaths per 1,000 population. See A.M. Minino, M. Heron, B.L. Smith,
Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2004, at http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/products.
21 Note that age-adjusted rates have little meaning in themselves; they are constructs that show what the level of
a striking pattern of the mortality risk emerges (see Figure 3): age-adjusted death rates have
exhibited a dramatic decline since 1950 (rather than being remarkably constant, as suggested by
the crude death rates). Use of the age-adjusted rates has allowed a much more refined evaluation
of trends in American mortality over time. Specifically, they show that, despite the fact that the
U.S. population has been aging over the past half-century, the risk of mortality has actually been
Figure 3. Crude and Age-adjusted Death Rates: United States, 1950-2003
12.0l at io
6. 0Rat e
4. 0De at
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
Source: CRS computations using data from the vital statistics system, NCHS.
Notes: CDRs are on an annual basis per 1,000 population; age-adjusted rates per 1,000 U.S. standard population
Highlights of trends in American mortality in 2003 include the following:23
• More than 2.4 million resident deaths were registered in the United States in
• The crude death rate was about 8.4 deaths per 1,000 total population, a record
low, and about 0.6% lower than the 2002 rate.
mortality would be if no changes occurred in the age composition of the population from year to year.
22 The age-adjusted rates are based on the year 2000 standard population. By definition, crude and age-adjusted death
rates converge in this year.
23 See National Vital Statistics Reports, Deaths: Final Data for 2003, DHHS/CDC/NCHS, vol. 54, no. 13, Apr. 19,
• Life expectancy at birth24 was 77.5 years, a record high that surpassed the
previous highest value, which was recorded in 2002. Record high life expectancy
was attained by the total population, as well as by each of the black and white
populations. Both males and females in each of the two major race groups
attained record high levels. U.S. life expectancy continues to fall short of that
attained by a number of other countries, including Japan (81.9 years), Iceland 25
(80.6), and Switzerland (80.4).
• The 10 leading causes of death were (1) heart disease, (2) malignant neoplasms 26
(cancer), (3) cerebrovascular diseases (stroke), (4) chronic lower respiratory
diseases, (5) accidents (unintentional injuries), (6) diabetes mellitus, (7) influenza
and pneumonia, (8) Alzheimer’s disease, (9) nephritis (kidney disease), and (10)
septicemia. Age-adjusted death rates continued to decrease for the three leading th
causes. The age-adjusted death rate for influenza and pneumonia (7 leading
cause) also decreased (by 2.7%) despite an influenza outbreak in 2003.
Increasing trends for Alzheimer’s disease continued.
• Differences in mortality between men and women continued to narrow. In 2003,
the age-adjusted death rate for men was 41% greater than that for women (down
from 42% greater in 2002). Life expectancy at birth for females was 80.1 years,
while it was 74.8 years for men (both increases from the previous year). The sex
gap in life expectancy, 5.3 years, has been falling from its late 1970s peak of 7.8
• Differences in mortality between the black and white populations persisted even
though there was a trend toward convergence. The age-adjusted death rate was
1.3 times greater, the infant mortality rate 2.4 times greater, and maternal
mortality rate 3.5 times greater for the black population than for the white
population. Life expectancy for the white population exceeded that for the black
population by 5.3 years.
• The infant mortality rate was 6.85 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, a small
reduction from 2002. Note that the rate had increased in 2002, the first increase
in over four decades.
As with the data for fertility, demographers use demographic projection techniques to predict the
future trends in American mortality. The Census Bureau projects that (crude) death rates will
remain low through 2050 in the narrow range of 8.6 to 9.9 deaths per 1,000 persons in the
population. Its figures gradually increase, reflecting the Census Bureau’s assumption that the
aging of the population will not be fully offset by continued reductions in the risk of dying.
24 Life expectancy at birth represents the average number of years that a group of infants would live if they were to
experience the current observed age-specific death rates throughout their lives. See CRS Report RL32792, Life
Expectancy in the United States, by Laura B. Shrestha.
25 CRS compilation from data in United Nations, World Population Prospects: the 2004 Revision.
26 Annual cancer deaths declined for the first time in more than 70 years in 2003. Experts attribute the achievement to
declines in smoking and better tumor detection and treatment. While annual drops of about 1% in the cancer death rate
(number of deaths from cancer per 100,000 people) have been observed over the past decade, the actual number of
cancer deaths still rose each year because the growth in total population outpaced the falling death rates. See Associated
Press, “Cancer Deaths Fall for First Time in 20 Years,” Mar. 21, 2006.
As with other demographic variables, however, future mortality and survival are difficult to
predict and specialists disagree on not only the level but also the direction of future trends. Three
recent articles were published that suggest that current models may be too pessimistic in their
assumptions about mortality and survival probabilities, i.e., Americans may live longer than 27
currently projected. Two of these studies showed that there has been a tendency for international 28
life expectancy to rise linearly by more than two years per decade over the past 40 years or the 29
last 160 years, suggesting that future mortality decline may be more rapid than current models 30
suggest. Also, a useful analysis of the contribution of smoking behavior to mortality trends
suggests that slow female gains in the United States may be temporary, and that the pace of
mortality gains may pick up fairly soon. On the other hand, another expert recently argued that
the trend toward longer lives will probably level off in coming years as a result of the rising tide 31
of obesity and the re-emergence of deadly infectious diseases.
Immigration has been an important component of population growth in the United States. The net
immigration rate (Figure 2) has been and is projected to be positive (with in-migration exceeding
out-migration) for the full century (1950 to 2050). It fluctuated in the low range of 1.5 to 2.4 net
migrants per 1,000 resident population between 1950 and 1979. An increasing trend has been
noted since 1980, and the annual rates in the 1990s were generally all in the range of 3.0 to 3.9.
The U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that net migration will continue to be an important
component of population growth in the United States through 2050 albeit at a slightly reduced
rate than currently observed.
What have been the relative roles of gross immigration and gross emigration to recent trends? In
general, the balance of gross immigration (of persons moving permanently to the United States)
has exceeded gross emigration (of persons leaving) over the past century. A notable exception
was observed during the Great Depression, when the number of out-migrants exceeded new
immigrants (see Table 2). Reflecting fluctuations in economic conditions (in the United States 32
and abroad) and U.S. immigration policies, the volume of immigrant flow to the United States
has fluctuated over time. Starting in 1915, immigration to the United States was curtailed because
of World War I, the introduction of numerical limits (or “quotas”), the economic depression of the 33
1930s, and World War II. Starting in the 1950s, the volume of immigration flows to the United
27 R. Lee, Report for the Roundtable Discussion of the Mortality Assumption for the Social Security Trustees, note
dated Sept. 11, 2002.
28 K. White, Longevity advances in high income countries, 1955-96. Population and Development Review, vol. 28, no.
1, Mar. 2002, pp. 59-76.
29 J. Oeppen and J. Vaupel, Broken limits to life expectancy, Science, vol. 296, May 10, 2002, pp. 1029-1030.
30 F. Pampel, Cigarette Use and the Narrowing Sex Differential in Mortality. Population and Development Review, vol.
28, no.1, March 2002, pp. 77-104.
31 R. S. Boyd, Life is Too Short, and it Might be Getting Shorter, Free Press, Washington Staff, Nov. 4, 2004, referring
to comments made by J. Olshanky.
32 These figures refer to legal immigrants, or citizens of other countries who have been granted visas that allow them to
live and work permanently in the United States. It includes (1) relatives of U.S. residents; (2) foreigners who were
admitted for economic or employment reasons; (3) refugees and asylees; and (4) persons in the “diversity” category,
which was created to introduce more variety into the stream of immigrants. It does not include nonimmigrants (visitors,
short-term workers, or students) or illegal immigrants.
33 The period 1915-1965 has been referred to as one of “immigrant pause.” See P. Martin and E. Midgley, Immigration:
Shaping and Reshaping America, Population Bulletin, vol. 58, no. 2, June 2003.
States has been steadily increasing. The average annual inflow was about 252,000 in the 1950s,
about 332,000 in the 1960s, 449,000 in the 1970s, and jumped to 734,000 in the 1980s. More than
9 million foreigners were admitted as legal immigrants to the United States between 1991 and
2000, an average of 900,000 a year. In the most recent years, the number of legal immigrants
surpassed 1 million persons in both 2001 and 2002, but fell to 706,000 persons in 2003 and 34
Table 2. U.S. Immigration and Emigration, by Decade: 1931-1990
Immigrants to Emigrants from Net Ratio:
Period the United States the United States immigration emigration/
(thousands) (thousands) (thousands) immigration
2001-2004 3,780 1,202 2,578 0.31
1991-2000 9,095 2,338 6,757 0.26
1981-1990 7,338 1,600 5,738 0.22
1971-1980 4,493 1,176 3,317 0.26
1961-1970 3,322 900 2,422 0.27
1951-1960 2,515 425 2,090 0.17
1941-1950 1,035 281 754 0.27
1931-1940 528 649 -121 1.23
Sources: For immigration, all years: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics,
2004, GPO, Washington, DC, January 2006. For emigration, years 1931-1990: U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service, Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2000, GPO, Washington,
DC, 2002. For 1991-2000: U.S. Census Bureau, Net International Migration and its Sub-Components for the Vintage
2000 Post-censal National Estimates: 1990 to 2000, Internet release date Feb. 8, 2002. For 2001-2004, Population
Reference Bureau, Estimates and Projections of Emigration from the United States, available at
http://www.prb.org/Content/NavigationMenu/PRB/Journalists/FAQ/Questions/U_S__Emigration.htm. For net
immigration and ratio: CRS computations based on sources cited.
There are few detailed and timely estimates of emigration of persons who leave the United States
to permanently take up residence elsewhere (whether native-born or foreign-born Americans).
Partly because of inherent methodological difficulties, the collection of emigration statistics was 35
discontinued in 1957 and no direct measure has been available since then. Using indirect
demographic techniques, the Census Bureau estimated that the number of emigrants leaving the
United States has been increasing over the past decades—reaching about 234,000 persons
annually during the 1990s (compared to 910,000 annual immigrants during the same time period).
The Population Reference Bureau assumes roughly 300,000 annual emigrants for years 2000-36
34 US Dept. of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2004. GPO, Washington, DC, January 2006.
35 U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
2000, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2002.
36 Population Reference Bureau, Estimates and Projections of Emigration from the United States, available at
Highlights of American immigration in FY2004 include the following:37
• Current U.S. policy on permanent immigration is based on four principles: the
reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with special skills, the 38
protection of refugees, and the diversity of admissions by country of origin.
• The number of persons granted lawful permanent residence in the United States
increased by more than 200,000 persons between 2003 and 2004, from 706,000
• The leading regions of origin of legal immigrants were North America and Asia.
These regions accounted for 36% and 35%, respectively, of all legal immigrants
• The leading source countries (of birth) for legal immigrants in 2004 were Mexico
(175,000 persons or 18.5%), followed by India (7.4%), the Philippines (6.1%),
China (5.4%), Vietnam (3.3%), and Dominican Republic (3.2%).
• The primary destination states in 2004, as in every year since 1971, were
California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois. Sixty-five percent
of all (legal) persons immigrating to the United States in 2004 lived in these six
• Data on immigrant’s intended metropolitan area are not available for FY2004.
However, 10 metropolitan areas were the intended residence of 41% of all legal
immigrants in 2003. The leading destinations were New York, NY; Los Angeles-
Long Beach, CA; Chicago, IL; and the Washington, DC-MD-VA metro area.
• The Census Bureau estimates that approximately 300,000 persons emigrated
annually in the period 2000-2004, an increase from the late 1990s.
• Unauthorized foreigners, also referred to as illegal aliens, deportable aliens, or
undocumented workers, are persons in the United States in violation of U.S.
immigration laws. It is estimated that there are more than 11 million unauthorized
foreigners currently living in the United States, and the resident unauthorized 39
alien population is estimated to increase by 500,000 people per year. United
States Border Patrol apprehensions increased steadily through the late 1990s,
reaching a peak of 1.68 million in 2000. From 2000 to 2003, apprehension levels 40
declined steadily, reaching a low of 931,557 in 2003. Each apprehension, even 41
of the same person, is counted separately.
37 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2004.
38 CRS Report RL32235, U.S. Immigration Policy on Permanent Admissions, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.
39 Jeffrey S. Passel, Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics, Pew Hispanic Center, June 14, 2005, at
http://www.pewhispanic.org. See also CRS Report RL33351, Immigration Enforcement Within the United States,
coordinated by Alison Siskin.
40 CRS Report RL33351, Immigration Enforcement Within the United States, ibid.
41 P. Martin and E. Midgley, Immigration: Shaping and Reshaping America, Population Reference Bureau: Population
Bulletin, vol. 58, no. 2, June 2003.
Aside from its total size, one of the most important demographic characteristics of a population
for public policy is its age and sex structure. In general, a “young” population structure is seen in
countries experiencing high fertility and rapid population growth, and the relevant policy
considerations are whether there are sufficient schools and, later, enough jobs and housing to
accommodate them. On the other hand, critical policy challenges in countries with “old”
population structures are to develop retirement and medical systems to serve the older population,
often with simultaneous reductions in the number of working-age persons to support them.
The population of the United States had been relatively “young” in the first half of the 20th
century, a consequence of a history of three demographic trends acting in concert—relatively high
fertility, declining infant and childhood mortality, and high rates of net immigration to the United
States by young workers and families. Since 1950, the United States has been in the midst of a 42
profound demographic change: rapid population aging, a phenomenon that is replacing the
earlier “young” age-sex structure with that of an older population.
Table 3. U.S. Population, by Age Group: 1950-2050
Age/year 1950 1975 2000 2025 2050
Number (in thousands, rounded)
Total 152,271 215,972 282,339 349,666 420,081
0-19 51,672 75,646 80,560 92,038 109,158
20-64 88,202 117,630 166,718 194,105 224,217
65-65+ 12,397 22,696 35,061 63,524 86,706
Percent in Age Group (rounded)
0-19 33.9 35.0 28.5 26.3 26.0
20-64 57.9 54.5 59.0 55.5 53.4
65-65+ 8.1 10.5 12.4 18.2 20.6
Source: CRS computations based on data in the U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Database, at
Figure 4 graphically displays three population pyramids, which show the proportion of persons in
each five-year age and sex group in the U.S. population, at three points in time—in census years
42 Aging (of a population) is a process in which the proportions of adults and elderly increase, while the proportions of
younger persons decrease, resulting in a rise in the median age of the population.
Figure 4. Age-Sex Structure of the United States in Selected Years
Source: CRS extractions from U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base (IDB), http://www.census.gov/ipc/
In 1950, the U.S. population, which numbered 152 million persons, was relatively young and its
population pyramid resembled a Christmas tree. The widest portion, representing the most
populous age group, was at the base—where 16.4 million new births and children under age 5
accounted for 10.8% of the total U.S. population. Bars representing persons at older ages
gradually narrow as deaths occur. The median age was 30.2 years43 and births outnumbered 44
deaths by a margin of 2.5 to 1.0. Three characteristics of the 1950 pyramid are especially worth
• The only significant departure from a pyramidal shape is notches representing
persons aged 10-24 years. These persons were born primarily during the
economic depression of the 1930’s when birth rates were comparatively low.
• Early “baby boom” births are evident in the youngest age group.45
• The number of persons aged 65 and older in the population was still relatively
low—12.4 million persons, representing 8.1% of the U.S. population. The
population pyramid in year 2000, the most recent year in which the U.S.
population was enumerated by the decennial census, is typical of a population
experiencing slow growth. Reflecting lower fertility, fewer people entered the
lowest bars of the pyramid, and as life expectancy has increased, a greater
percentage of persons have survived until old age. As a result, the population has
been aging. By 2000, the median age of the population had risen to 35.3 years
while infants and children under the age of five accounted for only 6.8% of the
population. Important characteristics of the U.S. population in year 2000 include:
• The U.S. population grew by roughly 85% between 1950 and 2000—from 152
million to 282 million persons. The pyramid, which is significantly larger in all
age groups, reflects this fact.
• The bulge of the baby-boom generation, those born between 1946-1964, can be
seen in the pyramid for ages 35-54 years in 2000. After 1964, birth rates moved
downward until the late 1970s. As the last members of the baby boom
approached their childbearing years during the 1980s, the number of births rose
again, peaking in 1990. These children, the youngest generation, are represented
by the slightly widening base of the pyramid. Even though the number of births
per woman is near an all time low, the population continues to grow in part 46
because of the children and grandchildren of the huge baby-boom generation.
• The number of persons aged 65 and older had been steadily increasing and
reached 35.1 million persons, representing 12.4% of the U.S. population.
• The fact that female survival chances exceed those of men, especially at the older
ages, becomes noticeably more evident in the 2000 pyramid. About 4.3% of the
total female population was aged 80 and above in 2000 compared to only 2.2%
43 Extraction from U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Data Base, available online at http://www.census.gov/
44 D.G. Fowles, Pyramid Power—Analysis of Demographic Revolution, Aging, winter, 1991.
45 In the post-war years, Americans were marrying and starting families at younger ages and in greater percentages than
they had during the Great Depression. The surge in births in the 19-year period between 1946 and 1964 resulted from a
decline in childlessness combined with larger family sizes (more women had three or more children). See C.L. Himes,
Elderly Americans, Population Bulletin, Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, December 2001.
46 Population Reference Bureau, Human Population: Fundamentals of Growth: Three Patterns of Population Change, at
By year 2050, projections of the U.S. population suggest that the population “pyramid” will no
longer resemble a Christmas tree; rather, it will be increasingly rectangular.
• In this population of 420.1 million persons, the most striking feature is the
projected number of people who will be aged 65 and older—86.7 million, just
over one in every five persons in the total U.S. population. To put these figures
into perspective, the “oldest” state in the year 2000 census was Florida with 47
• By year 2050, the percent elderly in the national population will surpass the
figures observed in the “oldest” states today. The oldest-old, those aged 80 and
above and including the youngest of the baby boomers, will be the most populous
age group—33.7 million persons or 8.0% of the entire U.S. population. The
oldest-old women of the same age will account for 9.6% of all women.
• The “baby boom” generation will have accelerated population aging, but aging
will continue to be one of the most important defining characteristics of the
population, even after the youngest of the “baby boom” population has passed
away. This reflects projections of continuing low fertility coupled with improving 48
survival in the United States.
The U.S. population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. This reflects two forces.
First, immigration has been a major influence on both the size and the age structure of the U.S.
population. Although most immigrants tend to be in their young adult ages, when people are most
likely and willing to assume the risks of moving to a new country, U.S. immigration policy has 49
also favored the entry of parents and other family members of these young immigrants. Second,
major racial and ethnic groups are aging at different rates, depending upon fertility, mortality, and
immigration within these groups.
Federal standards for collecting and presenting data on race and Hispanic origin were established 50
by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1997. Race and Hispanic origin are
considered to be two separate and distinct concepts and are considered separately in this report.
The OMB standards require federal agencies to use a minimum of five race categories in their
data collection and presentation efforts. The new standards were required to be used by the
47 The “youngest” state was Alaska with 36,000 persons aged 65 and older in a population of 627,000, or 5.7%. Source:
C.L. Himes, Elderly Americans, Population Bulletin, Wash. DC: Population Reference Bureau, Dec. 2001. (Hereafter
cited as C.L. Himes, Elderly Americans, 2001).
48 See CRS Report RL32981, Age Dependency Ratios and Social Security Solvency, by Laura B. Shrestha.
49 C.L. Himes, Elderly Americans, 2001. See also CRS Report RL32235, U.S. Immigration Policy on Permanent
Admissions, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.
50 OMB, “Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity,” Federal Register
Notice, Oct. 30, 1997, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/1997standards.html. These revised guidelines replace
and supercede Statistical Policy Directive, no. 15.
Census Bureau for the 2000 decennial census and by other federal programs “as soon as possible, 51
but not later than January 1, 2003.”
• White refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the
Middle East, or North Africa.
• Black or African American refers to people having origins in any of the Black
racial groups of Africa.
• American Indian and Alaska Native refers to people having origins in any of the
original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and
who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.
• Asian refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far
East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent.
• Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander refers to people having origins in
the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
For respondents unable to identify with any of these five race categories, the OMB approved
including a sixth category—“some other race.”
Going beyond the minimum standards set by OMB, the census 2000 question on race included 15
separate response categories and three areas where respondents could write in a more specific 52
group. Individuals were instructed to mark “one or more races to indicate what this person 53
considers himself/herself to be.” The response categories and write-in answers were combined
by the Census Bureau to create the five minimum OMB race categories, as seen in Table 4. Based
on data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the overwhelming majority of the U.S.
population—almost 99%—reported only one race. The most prevalent group, accounting for
about 81% of the U.S. population, was those who reported that they are white alone, followed by
those who are Black or African American alone (with almost 13% of respondents). The smallest
race group was the Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander alone population, with 463,000
members, representing less than 0.2% of the U.S. population.
51 OMB, ibid.
52 Q: what is this person’s race? (1) White; (2) Black or African Am., or Negro; (3) American Indian or Alaska
Native—print name of enrolled or principal tribe; (4) Asian Indian; (5) Chinese; (6) Filipino; (7) Japanese; (8) Korean;
(9) Vietnamese; (10) Other Asian—print race; (11) Native Hawaiian; (12) Guamanian or Chamorro; (13) Samoan; (14)
Other Pacific Islander—print race; and (15) Some other race—print race.
53 Identification of both race and Hispanic origin are based on self-identification in the U.S. census.
Table 4. U.S. Population, by Race: 2000
Race Number (in thousands) Percentage of total population
Total Population 281,422 100.00
One race 277,524 98.62
White 228,104 81.05
Black or African American 35,704 12.69
Asian 10,589 3.76
American Indian and Alaska Native 2,664 0.95
Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander 463 0.16
Two races 3,578 1.27
Three races 289 0.10
Four or more races 31 0.02
Sources: CRS compilation based on: (1) U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 1, Matrices P7 & P9,
Race Alone or in Combination: 2000, based on Census Summary File 1 (SF 1), 100% data.
http://factfinder.census.gov/, (2) Census Bureau, Modified Race Data Summary File, Technical Documentation,
Issued Sept., 2002, at http://www.census.gov/popest/archives/files/MRSF-01-US1.html.
Notes: These figures update/modify those presented in E.M. Crieco and R.C. Cassidy, Overview of Race and
Hispanic Origin, U.S. Census Bureau: Census 2000 Brief, C2KBR/01-1, issued March 2001.
Referring to Table 5, while about 81% of the population was white in 2000, that figure is 54
projected to fall to 72% by year 2050. Increases will be most dramatic for Asians and for
persons in the “other races” category (which includes American Indians and Alaska Natives,
Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, and individuals who identify with two or more
races). Between 2000 and 2050, the number of Asians is expected to increase by 22.7 million, an
increase of 213%, while the number in the “all other races” (which includes persons who identify
with two or more races) category will increase by 15.3 million, or 217%.
Table 5. Projected U.S. Population, by Race: 2000 to 2050
Population 2000 2010 2020 2030 2040 2050
282,125 308,936 335,805 363,584 391,946 419,854
Total (100.0) (100.0) (100.0) (100.0) (100.0) (100.0)
228,548 244,995 260,629 275,731 289,690 302,626
White alone (81.0) (79.3) (77.6) (75.8) (73.9) (72.1)
35,818 40,454 45,365 50,442 55,876 61,361
Black alone (12.7) (13.1) (13.5) (13.9) (14.3) (14.6)
54 Comparisons with earlier censuses are not provided as the Census Bureau cautions that “the Census 2000 data on
race are not directly comparable with data from the 1990 census or earlier censuses. Caution must be used when
interpreting changes in the racial composition of the U.S. population over time.” E.M. Crieco and R.C. Cassidy,
Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin, U.S. Census Bureau: Census 2000 Brief, C2KBR/01-1, issued March 2001.
Population 2000 2010 2020 2030 2040 2050
10,684 14,241 17,988 22,580 27,992 33,430
Asian alone (3.8) (4.6) (5.4) (6.2) (7.1) (8.0)
7,075 9,246 11,822 14,831 18,388 22,437
All other racesa (2.5) (3.0) (3.5) (4.1) (4.7) (5.3)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, “U.S. Interim Projections by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin,” Internet release
data: Mar. 18, 2004, at http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/usinterimproj/.
Notes: In thousands, except as indicated. As of July 1. Resident population.
a. “All other races” includes American Indian and Alaska Native alone, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific
Islander alone, and Two or More Races.
OMB defines Hispanic or Latino as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central
American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. Federal agencies are required to
use a minimum of two ethnicities: “Hispanic or Latino” and “Not Hispanic or Latino” in data
collection and presentation. The new standard was used by the Bureau of the Census in the 2000
decennial census; other federal programs were expected to adopt the standards no later than
January 1, 2003.
In census 2000, respondents of all races were asked if they were Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino, and
were given the opportunity to differentiate between: (a) Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano; 55
(b) Puerto Rican; (c) Cuban; and (d) other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino. Based on this definition,
almost 36 million persons, or about 12.6% of the U.S. population, identified themselves as 56
Hispanic. The remaining 246 million people, or 87.4%, were not Hispanic.
As mentioned earlier, OMB and the U.S. Bureau of the Census consider race and Hispanic origin
to be distinct concepts. The results from census 2000, however, suggest that such a distinction is
not made by persons of Hispanic origin themselves. The most commonly reported race for
Hispanics was white alone—almost 17 million persons or almost 48% of the Hispanic population.
But, a staggering 14.9 million Hispanics—or 42.2%—reported that they belonged to “some other
race,” indicating that they did not identify with any of the 14 other categories offered on the 57
Table 6 presents modified estimates of the Hispanic and non-Hispanic populations of the United
States. The modification reconciles the census 2000 race categories with those race categories
that appear in the data from administrative records, which are used to produce population 58
estimates and projections. These are also consistent with the recommended set of five categories
55 E.M. Crieco and R.C. Cassidy, ibid.
56 U.S. Census Bureau, “U.S. Interim Projections by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin,” at http://www.census.gov/
ipc/www/usinterimproj/, internet release date: Mar 18, 2004.
57 For comparison, only 0.2% of non-Hispanics chose the “some other race” category.
58 U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Modified Race Data Summary File.
Table 6. The Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Population in the United States, by Race:
Hispanic or Latino Not Hispanic or Latino
Percent Percent Percent Percent
Number of of Number of non- of
Race (in 000s) Hispanics Total (in 000s) Hispanics Total
Total 35,306 100.00 12.55 246,116 100.00 87.45
One race 34,814 98.61 12.37 242,710 98.62 86.24
White 32,529 92.13 11.56 195,576 79.46 69.50
Black 1,391 3.94 0.49 34,313 13.94 12.19
Asian 232 0.66 0.08 10,357 4.21 3.68
American Indian 566 1.60 0.20 2,097 0.85 0.75
Hawaiian 95 0.27 0.03 367 0.15 0.13
Two races 434 1.23 0.15 3,144 1.28 1.12
Three or more races 57 0.16 0.02 262 0.11 0.09
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Modified Race Data Summary File.
The population of Hispanic or Latino origin is projected to steadily increase as a percentage of the
total U.S. population through 2050, rising from 12.6% in 2000 to 24.4% in 2050 (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Hispanics and Non-Hispanics as Percentage of U.S. Population: 2000-2050
2000 2010 2020 2030 2040 2050
Hi s pani c No n- Hi s p an i c
Source: CRS extractions from: U.S. Census Bureau, 2004, U.S. Interim Projections by Age, Sex, Race, and
Hispanic Origin, at http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/usinterimproj/, internet release date: Mar. 18, 2004.
The changing demographic profile will impact upon a wide range of social and economic issues
in the United States. The following section presents a short discussion of some major policy
considerations that are related to these changes. Neither the list nor the discussions are
The increasing financial pressure faced by public pension systems, such as Social Security, is
often attributed to demographic trends that have led to aging populations. However, beyond the 59
simple mathematics of the worsening age dependency ratio, decreasing labor force participation
rates have contributed to financial imbalances within pension programs, further increasing the
number of retired persons relative to those in the workforce.
The declining labor force participation of older men is one of the most dramatic economic trends
of the past four decades in the United States. Between 1963 and 2003, labor force participation
59 The ratio of the number of “dependent” persons in a population (children and older persons) to the number of persons
of “working age.” See CRS Report RL32981, Age Dependency Ratios and Social Security Solvency, by Laura B.
rates declined from 90% to 75% among men aged 55-61. Over this period, labor force
participation rates dropped from 76% to 50% for men aged 62-64 and from 21% to 12% for men 6061
aged 70 and over. For all of these groups, most of the declines occurred prior to 1980.
An individual’s decision of whether to stay in the workforce or to retire is based on the complex
interaction of a number of factors including, but not limited to:
• Eligibility for Social Security benefits,
• Availability of and benefits under an employer-financed pension plan,
• Work incentives to stay in the labor force (such as continued benefit accrual after
attaining the early retirement age, options for phased retirement or to work
reduced hours, etc.),
• The physical and cognitive health of the worker and potentially other family
members (spouse, an aging parent, an adult child with a disability),
• Availability (and eligibility for) disability and unemployment insurance
• The worker’s relative preference for “leisure” compared to employment.
Policy levers are, however, available to influence labor force participation and retirement
decision-making. For instance, the federal government influences employers’ decisions about
whether to offer benefits like pensions and health insurance through direct legislation, such as
ERISA and the Age Discrimination Act; through social insurance programs, such as Social
Security and Medicare; and through the financial incentives created for both employers and 62
employees by the Internal Revenue Code.
Income security during retirement, coupled with an increase in the number of post-retirement
years during which individuals can enjoy family and leisure, is one of the primary social th
achievements of the 20 century. At the same time, this accomplishment has introduced some
fundamental public policy challenges associated with population aging. From an individual’s
perspective, the two most basic challenges are to ensure that they have sufficient income security
during their retirement years and that they have protection against the increasing risk of
experiencing periods of poor health and/or disability.
For policy-makers, there are fundamental questions with respect to what the federal role should st
be in helping individuals meet these objectives. A major domestic political challenge of the 21
century will be how to adapt our old-age income security and health insurance systems to ensure
financial solvency while ensuring that there is an adequate safety net to protect the most
vulnerable in the population. One option that is likely to be considered involves relying on
60 Federal Forum on Aging-related Statistics, 2004, Older Americans 2004: Key Indicators of Well-Being. Indicator
#11, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.
61 For a more in-depth discussion, see CRS Report RL30629, Older Workers: Employment and Retirement Trends, by
63 National Research Council, Preparing for an Aging World, 2001.
individual private savings and wealth accumulation to offset any reductions that may take place in
the level of public-tier support. The underlying question is how realistic it is to assume that
individuals will save sufficiently over their lifetime to contribute significantly to their own
income needs during retirement. Another central question regarding income security for older
persons is whether individuals and families will assume greater responsibility for their own
retirement if current government programs are scaled back because of budgetary pressures.
Several decades of population aging have occurred in the United States wherein the proportion of
young persons has declined while the number of older persons has expanded dramatically. The
changing age structure has raised philosophical questions around the theme of inter-generational
equity. Many analysts might expect such demographic changes to have favorable consequences
for children and troubling ones for older persons. Fewer children should mean less competition
for resources in the home as well as greater availability of social services earmarked for children,
especially public schooling. The sharp rise in the number of elderly should put enormous pressure
on resources directed towards the older ages, such as medical care facilities, nursing homes, and 64
social security funds. However, Preston, in his 1984 presidential address to the membership of
the Population Association of America documented that exactly the opposite had occurred:
conditions for children had, in fact, deteriorated and improved dramatically for older Americans.
Now, two decades later, the issue continues to be one of considerable debate. A recent study65
argued that, without an overhaul of entitlement programs (which largely favor older persons) or
tax-revenue reform, the ever-expanding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid budgets will
tighten the squeeze on other domestic spending (including programs for children, welfare,
education, the environment, community development, housing, energy, and justice—programs
that reach the majority of all Americans.) But, others argue that there are potentially catastrophic
outcomes associated with the redistribution of federal resources among age categories. For
instance, the safety nets for the most vulnerable may be interrupted. Costs might be transferred to
the states, with limited capacity to absorb the additional expenditures. Individuals may be unable
to assume the additional responsibilities asked of them.
There is no generally accepted rule in welfare economics for how an age group’s interests ought 66
to be represented in public decision-making. As noted by Preston, however, we are continually
faced with two questions. First, do we care about our collective future—the commonwealth—or
only about our individual futures? And, if we have collective concerns, we face an even more
difficult decision about what mix of private and public responsibilities will best serve the needs of
64 S. H. Preston, Children and the Elderly: Divergent Paths for America’s Dependents. Demography, vol. 21, no. 4,
1984. (Hereafter cited as Preston, Children and the Elderly, 1984).
65 C. E. Steuerle, The Incredible Shrinking Budget for Working Families and Children, The Urban Institute: National
Budget Issues, no. 1, December 2003.
66 CRS analysis based on S. H. Preston, Children and the Elderly, 1984.
Health is a critical policy variable. Although population aging may or may not result in increasing
proportions of older persons in poor health, the numbers experiencing that condition are almost
certain to rise. Thus, as the U.S. population ages, the social and economic demands on
individuals, families, communities, and the government will grow, with a substantial impact on
the formal and informal health and social care systems and on the financing of medical services in
In conjunction with the growing numbers of older persons, the United States faces secular change
in health status, as reflected in rates and outcomes of various conditions and disabilities. Trends in
cognitive impairment and dementia have enormous policy implications, but whether changes in
disease and disability rates will alter the rates of long-term institutionalization is unclear.
While recognizing the necessity to address the changing health needs of the older population,
critical questions remain regarding the best mechanisms for health system organization, delivery
of and access to services, administration, and financing. Socioeconomic differentials also need to
Immigration has historically been a major contributor to population growth in the United States,
and immigration reform has recently been an active topic for both the President and for Congress.
When President George W. Bush announced his principles for immigration reform in January
2004, he included an increase in permanent immigration as a key component. President Bush has
stated that immigration reform is a top priority of his second term and has prompted a lively
debate on the issue. Bills to revise permanent admissions are being introduced, but only one has th
had any legislative action so far in the 109 Congress. A provision in P.L. 109-13 (H.R. 1268, the
emergency FY2005 supplemental appropriation) makes available up to 50,000 employment-based 67
visas for foreign nationals coming to work as medical professionals.
Security concerns are figuring prominently in the development of and debate on immigration th68
legislation in the 109 Congress. In May 2005, the REAL ID Act became law as Division B of
P.L. 109-13. It contains a number of immigration and identification document-related provisions
intended to improve homeland security. Among these are provisions to change the Immigration
and Nationality Act (INA) with respect to asylum and other forms of relief from removal, to
expand the terrorism-related grounds for alien inadmissability and deportation, and to set
standards for state-issued drivers’ licenses and personal identification cards.
The security-related issue of immigration enforcement remains on Congress’s agenda. Other th
immigration bills receiving action thus far in the 109 are measures on alien victims of domestic 69
violence, trafficking in persons, and refugees.
67 CRS Report RL32235, U.S. Immigration Policy on Permanent Admissions, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.
68 See CRS Report RL33125, Immigration Legislation and Issues in the 109th Congress, coordinated by Andorra
The 108th Congress had also considered legislation on a wide range of immigration issues. Chief
among these were the immigration-related recommendations of the National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission), expedited 70
naturalization through military service, and foreign temporary workers and business personnel.
The U.S. population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Once a mainly biracial
society with a large white majority and relatively small black minority—and an impenetrable
color line dividing these groups—the United States is now a society composed of multiple racial
and ethnic groups. Along with increased immigration are rises in the rates of racial/ethnic 71
intermarriage, which in turn have led to a sizeable and growing multiracial population. These
trends are projected to continue for the next decades.
This diversity presents policy challenges in a number of areas. For instance:
• Assimilation. Many Asian Americans speak their native languages at home and
maintain their distinct ethnic cultures and values, signaling that they either face
difficulties fully assimilating into the American mainstream or purposefully resist 72
full assimilation. The continued flows of Latino immigrants ensure that the 73
Spanish language and diverse Latino cultures will endure in the United States.
The degree to which there are language barriers or lack of assimilation of
immigrants has important implications for both entry into and achievement in the
educational system and the labor force.
• Income Disparities. There are persistent differences in family incomes among
racial/ethnic groups in the United States. For instance, in 2000, the median
income level for a black family—at about $31,000—was about $17,000 lower 74
than that of a white family (about $52,000). One consequence of this disparity
is that low-income/low-wealth persons face hurdles when attempting to become 75
homeowners. Mortgage underwriting criteria present two potential borrowing
constraints for low-income buyers: (1) the wealth constraint results from the
buyers’ need to amass down-payment capital and funds to cover other up-front
costs necessary to initiate the transaction, and (2) the income constraint results
from maximum allowable total debt-to-income and/or housing debt-to-income 76
ratios employed in mortgage underwriting.
70 CRS Report RL32169, Immigration Legislation and Issues in the 108th Congress, by Andorra Bruno et al.
71 J. Lee and F.D. Bean. America’s Changing Color Lines: Immigration, Race/Ethnicity, and Multiracial Identification,
Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 30 pp. 221-242, August 2004.
72 Y. Xie and K.A. Goyette, A Demographic Portrait of Asian Americans, Russell Sage Foundation and the Population
Reference Bureau, 2004.
73 R. Saenz, Latinos and the Changing Face of America, Russell Sage Foundation and the Population Reference
74 M.A. Stoll, African Americans and the Color Line, Russell Sage Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau,
75 M. Duda and E.S. Belsky, The Anatomy of the Low-Income Homeownership Boom in the 1990s, Harvard University:
Joint Cnt for Housing Studies, Low-Income Homeownership Working Paper Series, LIHO.01-1, July 2001.
76 P. Linneman and colleagues, Do Borrowing Constraints Change U.S. Homeownership Rates? Journal of Housing
Economics, vol. 6, pp. 318-33.
• Poverty.77 Impressive improvements were made in reducing poverty rates
between 1990 and 2000. The poverty rate declined from 28.1% to 21.2% among
Hispanics, and from 12.2% to 10.8% among Asians and Pacific Islanders. The
declines have been especially steep among African Americans, with rates
dropping from 31.9% to 22.1%. Still, America’s racial minorities continue to
have disproportionately high poverty rates. In 2000, 47% of the poor were non-
Hispanic white, and poverty rates among blacks and Hispanics were roughly 78
twice the national average. Poverty and welfare receipt are inextricably linked.
Government programs may help low-income persons meet their basic daily needs 79
(through cash assistance programs such as TANF or food stamps). But there is
continuing fear that welfare creates economic dependency and perpetuates the
cycle of poverty.
77 D. T. Lichter and M.L. Crowley, Poverty in America: Beyond Welfare Reform, Population Bulletin, vol. 57, no. 2,
78 See CRS Report 95-1024, Trends in Poverty in the United States, by Thomas Gabe.
79 TANF: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. See (1) CRS Report 98-369 EPW, Welfare Reform: TANF Trends
and Data, by Vee Burke, and, (2) CRS Report RL32210, TANF Reauthorization: Side-by-Side Comparison of Current
Law and Two Versions of H.R. 4 (108th Congress), by Vee Burke and Gene Falk.
(per 1,000 population)
Year Growth Rate Birth Rate Death Rate Rate
1950 16.5 24.1 9.6 2.0
1960 16.0 23.7 9.5 1.8
1970 11.0 18.4 9.5 2.1
1980 10.8 15.9 8.8 3.7
1990 10.3 16.7 8.6 2.2
2000 8.9 14.4 8.5 3.2
2010 8.1 14.3 8.6 2.4
2020 7.8 14.2 8.7 2.3
2030 7.6 13.9 9.3 3.0
2040 6.9 14.0 9.8 2.7
2050 6.7 14.0 9.8 2.5
Sources: Estimates (Years 1950-2000): Birth Rates: For years 1950, 1960, 1970: Vital Statistics of the United
States, 1999, vol. 1, Natality, Table 1-1, at website http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/datawh/stataib/unpubd/natality/
nata99.htm. For years 1980, 1990, 2000: National Vital Statistics Report: Births: Final Data for 2002, 52(10): Table
Death Rates: National Vital Statistics Report (NVSR): Deaths: Final Data for 2002, 53(5): Table 1.
Net Immigration Rates: For year 1950: U.S. Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1980. Table 4.
For years 1960, 1970, and 1980: Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1990. Table 14, for year 1990, Statistical
Abstract of the United States: 2001, Table 4, at http://www.census.gov/statab/www/. Note that Statistical Abstracts
for selected years (back to 1878) are available at this site.
Growth Rates: CRS computations based on data on birth, death, and net immigration rates above. Projections
(Years 2010-2050): U.S. Census Bureau, Components of Change for the Total Resident Population, Middle Series,
1999-2100, at http://www.census.gov/population/www.projections.
Notes: Data on 1980 births are based on 100% of births in selected states and on a 50% sample in all other
Laura B. Shrestha
Specialist in Domestic Social Policy