A Nation in Full
Within days, America will pass the 300 million mark in population. Behind the numbers, the changes are dramatic. A look at the biggest:
It took the United States 139 years to get to 100 million people, and just 52 years to add another 100 million, back in 1967. Now, one day in October-after an interval of just 39 years-America will claim more than 300 million souls. The moment will be hailed as another symbol of America's boundless energy and unique vitality. It is that, of course. But it is also true America has grown every time the Census Bureau has taken a measurement, starting in 1790, when the Founders counted fewer than 4 million of their countrymen-about half the population of New York City today.
The recent growth surge has been extraordinary. Since 2000 alone, the nation has added some 20 million people. Compared with western Europe, with birth rates plunging, or Japan, its population shrinking, America knows only growth, growth, and more growth. It now has the third-largest population in the world, after China and India. "Growth is a concern that we have to manage," says Kenneth Prewitt, former head of the Census Bureau, "but it's much easier to manage than losing your population."
Examine the numbers closely, and three broad trends emerge. The first is migration. As the industrial base of the Northeast and Midwest has declined, millions of Americans have moved to the South and the West, now home to more than half the population-and growing strong. Immigration is next. Over the past four decades, immigrants, primarily from Mexico and Latin America, have reshaped the country's ethnic makeup; of the newest 100 million Americans, according to Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center, 53 percent are either immigrants or their descendants. Last are the much-ballyhooed boomers, many now on the cusp of retirement. America, says the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau, "is getting bigger, older, and more diverse."
The implications are both vast and varied, affecting America's culture, politics, and economy. One obvious example is the stormy debate on immigration now roiling Congress. Another: As population shifts continue, congressional redistricting will follow, tipping the geographical balance of power. A markedly older America will also have a profound effect on government spending-all three issues giving a new Congress and, before too much longer, a new president, plenty to ponder.
THE NEW MIGRATION
BOISE, IDAHO-Sitting between the Rocky Mountain foothills to the northeast and the Great Basin desert to the south, between big sky and dusty desert, Boise has always been a pioneer town. In the early 1800s, legend has it, French-Canadian fur trappers came upon a clump of trees and exclaimed "Les Bois!"-the woods. And so Boise grew up a mining, logging, and farming hub, the capital city of one of the most rural states in America.
Those laid-back days are long gone. The 1970 census reported that Idaho had become more urban than rural; only a few years later, Micron, one of the world's largest superconductor producers and now the state's largest private employer, was founded here, and Hewlett-Packard's printer plant was on the way. The main industry now is growth and how to manage it. The Boise metro area's population has grown 79 percent just since 1990. Onion and beet farms abut subdivisions not even half finished; on Chinden Boulevard, a main artery, a sign proclaiming "Hay for Sale" stands across from a flashy placard advertising the new Paramount housing development.