Could the U.S. be the world’s most populous country in 2100?

The United States, currently the world’s third-most populous country behind China and India, could have the largest population in the world by 2100, according to new projections by Joseph Chamie, the former director of the United Nations Population Division. There’s one hitch: If the United States is to rise to first place and not fall ...

610863_130416_PopulationProjectionBIG2.jpg
610863_130416_PopulationProjectionBIG2.jpg

The United States, currently the world's third-most populous country behind China and India, could have the largest population in the world by 2100, according to new projections by Joseph Chamie, the former director of the United Nations Population Division.

There's one hitch: If the United States is to rise to first place and not fall to fourth (after being surpassed by Nigeria in 2050), it will need an eightfold increase in annual immigration -- a compelling data point to consider as the Senate takes up bipartisan legislation on immigration reform. This graph, compiled by Chamie with U.N. data, shows two different scenarios for U.S. population growth. One, in red, traces the U.S population to 2100 with current immigration rates (1.2 million immigrants annually). The other, in blue, shows how U.S. population would grow if the country increases its influx of immigrants to 10 million a year.

The United States, currently the world’s third-most populous country behind China and India, could have the largest population in the world by 2100, according to new projections by Joseph Chamie, the former director of the United Nations Population Division.

There’s one hitch: If the United States is to rise to first place and not fall to fourth (after being surpassed by Nigeria in 2050), it will need an eightfold increase in annual immigration — a compelling data point to consider as the Senate takes up bipartisan legislation on immigration reform. This graph, compiled by Chamie with U.N. data, shows two different scenarios for U.S. population growth. One, in red, traces the U.S population to 2100 with current immigration rates (1.2 million immigrants annually). The other, in blue, shows how U.S. population would grow if the country increases its influx of immigrants to 10 million a year.

You may ask: Is 10 million immigrants a year a realistic goal? Some have expressed doubt about America’s ability to continue attracting immigrants. But Chamie is optimistic. In a recent article for the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, Chamie writes, “Global opinion polls show that many people at virtually all skill levels would like to emigrate, and the number-one destination is overwhelmingly the United States.”

Chamie is hopeful that the United States can achieve high population-growth rates (even as China and India’s populations plateau and begin to decrease), and thus fend off the typical problems — aging population, dwindling workforce, shrinking economy, increasing burdens on taxpayers — that often affect countries with low fertility rates. But he is also proposing a somewhat radical solution: Come one, come all.

By “opening America’s doors wide to immigrants,” the demographer argues, “the issue of illegal immigration would no longer be a sensitive political matter occupying valuable time and resources of the U.S. president or Congress. Unauthorized immigrants residing in the U.S. — 60 percent currently from Mexico — would be granted amnesty and welcomed as new citizens. Enforcement, border patrol, legal/judicial hearings, incarceration and deportations would be negligible, saving the nation billions of dollars that could be used for rebuilding America’s ailing infrastructure.”

Not only would this approach save resources, he argues, but it would also reinforce the U.S. commitment to family values (by reuniting separated immigrant families); greatly increase U.S. GDP, work wages, and tax revenues; enlarge the country’s pool of “workers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and consumers”; and, “strengthen [America’s] capacity to continue promoting democracy, freedom and development, thereby ensuring peace, stability and prosperity for every region of the world.” Plus, it’s hard for Americans to say no to a plan that would keep them ahead of China, right?

Elizabeth Ralph is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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