Conference on Population Features Census Bureau Director and Examines Meaning of 300 Million Mark

October 20, 2006 — By the time you read this, the nation’s population will have just ticked past the 300 million mark, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s official “Population Clock.” That milestone provides an opportunity to reflect on the meanings of our nation’s demographic trends and changes, both past and projected, noted the director of the Census Bureau, Charles Kincannon, on Grounds Oct. 11 for a U.Va. conference on “300 Million: What Does It Mean?” The event was sponsored by U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service and the Center for Politics.

During the conference luncheon, hosted by President John T. Casteen III, Kincannon shared some facts to put the 300 million mark in perspective.

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world with strong population growth in the past 10 years. On Oct. 17, according to official estimates of the U.S. Bureau of the Census, America became only the third country in the world with 300 million people, joining India and China. No other country is projected to reach 300 million within the next 30 years, while the United States is projected to reach 400 million in 2043.

Michael Spar, a research associate at U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center, reported on astronomical increases in median housing values since 2001 in Northern Virginia (100 percent in Fairfax County and 150 percent in Prince William County) and the contrast between skyrocketing housing values and stagnant household incomes.

Spar’s data also show increasing numbers of Virginians living in poverty — about 730,000 state residents in 2005, up from around 660,000 in 2000. The distribution of poverty is strikingly uneven across different groups in Virginia. Less than 3 percent of married couples in Virginia live in poverty, while 25 percent of female-headed families with no husband present are below the poverty line. The number jumps to 40 percent for such female-headed families with a child under the age of 5. The gender gap in average earnings is closing, but very slowly, Spar said. Considering only year-round, full-time workers, median earnings in Virginia for females rose from 74 percent of male median earnings in 2000 to 76 percent in 2005, similar to national trends. At the current rate of improvement, gender earnings parity is not projected to occur until 2060, Spar noted.

William Morrish, E.R. Quesada Professor of Landscape Architecture and City Planning, stated in a panel discussion that most demographers agree that without the influx of immigrants to our nation’s inner cities in the past 30 years, the cities would be in much worse shape than they currently are. Immigrants have been ‘urban pioneers,’ fixing old housing stock and starting new businesses in rundown sections of America’s inner cities.

For Morrish the 300 million milestone is an opportunity to acknowledge the growing importance of cities, which now account for more than 79 percent of the U.S. population, acccording to the U.S. census. In contrast to longstanding American tendencies to valorize the rural aspects of America, the next generation of American self-conception should recognize that the United States is becoming a country of cities, he said.

Larry J. Sabato, professor of politics and director of the Center for Politics, noted that several of the states commonly considered “red,” a cipher for states that tend to elect Republicans, are actually purple, and trending blue. Examples are Colorado, Montana and New Mexico. Hispanic immigration and growth in urban areas are two factors underlying that shift. More than two-thirds of Latinos tend to vote Democratic, so their population growth, particularly in key electoral college states, presents a major hurdle for Republicans, who will have to gain at least 45 percent of the Latino vote by 2050, while still retaining their current 60 percent of the white vote, in order to win the presidency, Sabato said.