U.S. Economic and Social Trends since 2000

By Jacobsen, Linda A.; Mather, Mark | Population Bulletin, February 2010 | Go to article overview

U.S. Economic and Social Trends since 2000


Jacobsen, Linda A., Mather, Mark, Population Bulletin


This has been a tumultuous decade for the United States. During the first 1 0 years of the 21 st 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 1 0 percent mark for the first time since 1 983. Household wealth increased somewhat with the stock market gains during the

past year, but remains well below prerecession levels. Household net worth dropped by more than $1 0 trillion during the recession-the largest loss of wealth since the federal government started keeping records of wealth accumulation 50 years ago.1

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 the ways people are adapting to changing economic conditions. In this Population Bulletin, we look beyond employment and income and examine other important aspects of people's lives, including educational attainment, homeownership, 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.

Historically, the decennial census has been a key source of data on social and economic trends. Since 1940, the U.S. Census Bureau has used two questionnaires to collect information: a short form with a few questions on age, sex, and race and Hispanic origin; and a long form with about 50 additional questions on socioeconomic and housing characteristics. However, the census is conducted only once every 1 0 years.

In 2010, the decennial census will be a shortform-only census. The long form has been replaced by the American Community Survey (ACS), a nationwide survey that collects reliable and timely demographic, housing, social, and economic data every year.

In this Bulletin, we rely on data from the ACS, the Current Population Survey (CPS), and other sources to track social and economic trends since 2000. The most recent data from the ACS and CPS reflect conditions in 2008 or early 2009 and do not capture more recent economic developments, but they give us a first look at how people in the United States have coped with new economic realities. We also pay close attention to differences by race and ethnicity. In the coming decades, racial and ethnic minorities will account for a growing share of the U.S. population and labor force, so it Is important to see how historically disadvantaged minority groups are faring and whether they have been disproportionately affected by recent economic events.

Population Trends Since 2000

The 2010 Census will provide basic information about the size and demographic composition of the U.S. population and how it has changed since 2000. However, data from the Census Bureau's Population Estimates Program provide a preview of the U.S. population in advance of the 201 0 Census results.

In December 2009, the U.S. population stood at 308.2 million. Since 2000, more than 26 million people have been added to the U.S. population. During the past nine years, the population grew at a rate of just under 1 percent per year, high compared with other developed countries but low compared with the 1 .3 percent annual growth during the 1 990s, when nearly 33 million people were added to the population.2

U.S. population growth has slowed slightly in the past few years, mostly because of a drop In net international migration. At the beginning of the decade, the Census Bureau estimated net international migration at about 1 .2 million per year. By 2009, that annual number had been revised to less than 900,000. The drop also means that a smaller share of U.S. population growth is directly attributable to immigration, as opposed to natural increase (the excess of births over deaths). At the beginning of the decade, immigration accounted for roughly 40 percent of U. …

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