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Collision Course: Infrastructure and U.S. Population Growth


In this article the author provides statistical support  to clarify many of our immigration issue's most contentious aspects.


American infrastructure faces two enormous challenges. Much of it was built shortly after World War II, so it is outdated and has been allowed to deteriorate. Equally important: the U.S. population continues to grow, requiring additional capacity and wearing out existing infrastructure at higher rates.

If current trends continue, our population will rise from 319 million in 2014 to 417 million in 2060. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of this increase will be due to new immigrants. This does not include the U.S.-born children of immigrant mothers, which are projected to total 40 million over the next 45 years. Owing to their above average fertility rates, immigrant mothers will account for 20.3% of all births over this period, higher than their share of the women in childbearing ages. Meanwhile, fertility rates of native-born mothers are falling.

Infrastructure and population growth? That’s an odd couple. Immigration policy has been debated for years, but the debate usually focuses on border security, criminal deportations, and whether illegal alien workers are really needed to do the jobs that Americans “won’t do.” Immigration’s impact on public infrastructure is rarely discussed.

Until the past few months infrastructure policy was on the back burner, surfacing when a bridge or levee collapsed, but generally of interest only to civil engineers and policy wonks. That changed briefly during the Great Recession, when Barack Obama’s stimulus bill boosted federal infrastructure outlays by $55 billion, in nominal terms, over the 2009-2014 period. About half of that amount was spent in 2009 and 2010.

Since then the economy has recovered, but infrastructure spending has collapsed. The one constant over this period has been U.S. population growth...

Too many people; not enough roads, classrooms, emergency rooms, and drinking water. This, in a nutshell, is the problem facing public infrastructure in many U.S. communities. Federal policy exacerbates both sides of this equation: U.S. population growth is increasingly driven by immigration, while the share of the federal budget devoted to infrastructure has declined in favor of means tested health and social programs.

A two-part solution, involving immigration reform and a shift in spending priorities, is essential. Failure to act and today’s infrastructure problem will inevitably become tomorrow’s infrastructure crisis.

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