The U.S. Population: 10 Years, 10 Key Findings

May 14, 2010
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This has been a tumultuous decade for the U.S. During the first 10 years of the 21st century, there was a major terrorist attack, a housing meltdown, a severe economic recession, and a significant downturn in the U.S. stock market.

Unemployment recently passed the 10% mark for the first time since 1983. Household wealth increased somewhat with the stock market gains of the past year, but it remains well below prerecession levels.

Household net worth dropped by more than $10 trillion during the recession—the largest loss of wealth since the federal government started keeping records of wealth accumulation 50 years ago.

Trends in stock market indicators, household wealth, consumer confidence, and labor force participation are widely reported and used to measure the health of the U.S. economy.

But less is known about how people are adapting to changing economic conditions. This “Population Bulletin” from the Population Reference Bureau looks beyond employment and income and examines other important aspects of people's lives, including educational attainment, home ownership, commuting, marriage, fertility, and migration trends.

With the close of the decade, it is an appropriate time to review how the U.S. population has changed since 2000.

The Population Reference Bureau report, “U.S. Economic and Social Trends Since 2000,” analyzes the nation’s last 10 years of economic and social trends. Here are 10 key findings about those last 10 years:

1. The recession has had wide-ranging effects on the U.S. population and society.

2. In some cases, these are long-term trends that preceded the recession, while other trends may be short-term adaptations to the economic crisis.

3. Fertility rates have declined during past economic downturns, and the current recession is expected to have a similar impact on birth rates in 2008 and 2009.

4. Education levels have continued to increase for most groups but have increased faster among women than men. And there are still persistent racial/ethnic gaps in educational attainment.

5. The future economic success of the U.S. workforce depends in large part on the education, skills, and productivity of young people, who are increasingly racial and ethnic minorities.

By 2030, 43% of all youth (ages 15 to 24) are projected to be black or Latino. If current gaps in school enrollment and completion rates among blacks and Hispanics persist, the U.S. may not have the workforce it needs to succeed in today's global, knowledge-based economy.

6. Job losses and housing market declines have disproportionately affected blacks and Latinos. Latinos have been especially vulnerable because of their concentrations in California, Florida, and other states with steep declines in home values and high rates of foreclosure.

7. There’s a growing poverty gap between children and the elderly. Social Security benefits have kept most older Americans above the official poverty line, while families with children have not fared as well.

8. More people are delaying marriage. However, it’s hard to gauge whether the increase in the proportion of never-married men and women in 2008 was due to the recession or was just a continuation of ongoing trends.

9. Fewer people are moving, but some parts of the country continue to experience high levels of out-migration. The population decline has been most pronounced in Michigan, where 60 of the state's 83 counties lost population between 2007 and 2008.

10. Many rural communities also struggle with high levels of out-migration. Of the 1,350 counties that shrank in population between 2000 and 2008, 85% are located outside metropolitan areas, and 59% rely heavily on farming, manufacturing, or mining.

Just as the strong economy during the 1990s created new opportunities for people to live and work in rural areas, the weak economy since 2000 (and rising gas prices) may be pushing people back to cities to find jobs with decent wages that are closer to home.

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