U.S. Population Reaches 300 million, Heading for 400 Million

Sometime this month, the U.S. population is projected to reach 300 million. In times past, reaching such a demographic milestone might have been a cause for celebration. In 2006, it is not.

Population growth is the ever expanding denominator that gives each person a shrinking share of the resource pie. It contributes to water shortages, cropland conversion to non-farm uses, traffic congestion, more garbage, overfishing, crowding in national parks, a growing dependence on imported oil, and other conditions that diminish the quality of our daily lives.With births exceeding deaths by nearly two to one, the U.S. population grows by almost 1.8 million each year, or 0.6 percent. Adding nearly 1 million immigrants per year brings the annual growth rate up to 0.9 percent, raising the total addition to 2.7 million. As things now stand, we are headed for 400 million Americans by 2043. See data. U.S. population growth contrasts with the situation in other industrial countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Japan, where populations are either essentially stable or declining slightly.

More people require more of everything, including water. In our highly urbanized society, we fail to recognize how much water one person uses. While we drink close to a gallon of water each day, it takes some 500 gallons a day to produce the food we consume.

The U.S. annual population growth of nearly 3 million contributes to the water shortages that are plaguing the western half of the country and many areas in the East as well. As water supplies tighten, the competition between farmers and cities intensifies. In this contest, farmers almost always lose.

In the United States, more people means more cars. And that in turn means paving more land for roads and parking lots. Each U.S. car requires nearly one fifth of an acre of paved land for roads and parking space. For every five cars added to the U.S. fleet, an area the size of a football field is covered with asphalt. The United States, with its 226 million motor vehicles, has paved some 4 million miles of roads--enough to circle the Earth at the equator 157 times.

More cars also translates into more traffic congestion. Americans are spending more and more time sitting in their cars going nowhere as freeways and streets become, in effect, parking lots. As cities sprawl, longer commuting distances and more congestion en route combine to increase the time spent in automobiles. In 1982 the average motorist experienced 16 hours of delay; by 2003 this had tripled to 47 hours. Causing 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and wasting 2.3 billion gallons of fuel, the total bill for this traffic congestion was $63 billion.

Given the negative effects of continuing population growth on our daily lives, it may be time to establish a national population policy, one that would lead toward population stabilization sooner rather than later. As noted earlier, almost all other industrial countries now have stable or declining populations. Perhaps it's time for us to stabilize the U.S. population as well, so that we never have to ask whether 400 million Americans is a cause for celebration.

(For more see Chapter 7, Eradicating Poverty, Stabilizing Population, in Plan B 2.0..)