The U.S. population has grown by 82 million since 1990. This massive expansion in workers and consumers has been a boon for business, leading to a period of astonishing economic growth and  prosperity.

A formerly sunken boat stands upright into the air with its stern buried in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, near Boulder City, Nev., on Jan. 27. The recreation area is fed by the Colorado River, but because of a regional megadrought, the water level in the lake – a key water source for 25 million people – has dropped around 170 feet since 2000. John Locher/Associated Press

But prosperity driven by population growth also includes costs. Eighty-two million people require a huge public infrastructure investment: roads, schools, hospitals, water and sewer systems, the energy grid, universities, etc. Borrowing to cover these unfunded costs has driven the deficit to a whopping $31 trillion, with the Congressional Budget Office projecting another $19 trillion to the deficit in the next 10 years.

This is not sustainable. And there are other problems. Since 1990, income disparity has exploded, with 68% of our wealth owned by the top 10% of workers, and 57% of households not making enough in 2021 to pay any federal income taxes. We need higher wages. When wages increase, people pay more taxes. We also need to increase taxes on the rich and reduce government programs. Tough decisions.

And, finally, population growth is driving shortages in farmland and water. According to The New York Times, the Colorado River, upon which 40 million Americans rely, is rapidly shrinking from overuse, urbanization and megadroughts driven by climate change. Some communities in Texas and California depend on bottled water trucked from elsewhere. And regarding farmland, we’ve lost 11 million acres to urbanization in just the last 20 years.

So what next? Do we continue this population growth prosperity plan, adding another 82 million people, or do we rethink the plan? Since most of our growth is driven by immigration, the decisions Congress makes on asylum, foreign worker programs and border enforcement will determine our future growth. Those who want to increase immigration point to the “help wanted” signs and the low unemployment rate, arguing that America faces a looming worker shortage as boomers retire. But prominent labor economist Robert Reich doesn’t buy the labor shortage narrative. He points out that most Americans have suffered a decline in inflation-adjusted wages, making it unlikely that employers are seeing a shortage that’s driving them to attract workers.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects our national population will add anywhere from 50 million to 120 million more people by 2060, depending on whether Congress pursues high-immigration or low-immigration policies. Given these numbers, it seems a bit premature to panic over looming  labor shortages. And many  economists are predicting a massive loss of ordinary jobs as businesses increasingly automate their labor needs. According to Zippia, which studies data on automation and industrial robots, job loss from automation will potentially eliminate 73 million U.S. jobs by 2030.


We also have a record number of working-age people who aren’t in the labor market. Do they really lack ambition, or might they just lack the skills needed for better jobs? It doesn’t make sense that China and India are supplying our  tech companies with the high-paid STEM  workers they need, but the U.S. education system isn’t capable of training enough Americans for these jobs. What gives?

If you ask Google which countries have the happiest people, the lowest crime rates, the least poverty, the most stable governments and the least income disparity, the small countries win all the prizes: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, etc.

So let’s rethink our future. Is continual growth really necessary? Do we want more traffic congestion, more shopping malls, more housing competition driving up the cost of homeownership and the loss of wild spaces? More homelessness? And more friction between developers who want to build dense housing and the NIMBYs who want to preserve the character of their communities? The American people never asked Congress for population growth.

The special interest lobbies that have benefited the most from cheap labor, new consumers and stagnant wages continue to dominate Congress and the media narrative. It won’t be easy to slow this juggernaut. But the latest Gallup poll reports most Americans don’t want more expansion, and 38% want immigration reduced.

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