Census Data: US Population Growing Older, More Diverse

The United States population is growing older and more diverse than ever before, Census Bureau data shows.

The average age of Americans is 37.9 years, more than two years higher than the median age in 2000, according to new Census Bureau numbers released Thursday. The number of Americans over 65 years old has increased from 35 million at the turn of the century to 49.2 million today.

Whites continue to be the biggest racial group in America, accounting for 256 million people in 2016. However, their population grew by only 0.5 percent, fueled largely by immigration. Non-Hispanic whites experienced a natural decrease of 163,000, meaning more whites died than were born last year.

The African American population jumped 1.2 percent, to 46.8 million, whereas the Hispanic population expanded by 2 percent, to 57.5 million. The Asian American population grew by 3 percent, to 21.4 million last year.

“We’re becoming more diverse, from the bottom of the age structure up,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. The population of younger whites has shrunk every year since at least 2000, Frey said.

“To the extent that the white population is growing at all, it’s in that 55 and older population.”

That graying of America comes as the Baby Boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 edges toward retirement. At the same time, younger Americans are going through what some demographers call a baby bust, either choosing not to have children or delaying the decision to get pregnant. 

The number of annual births has fallen steadily since 2007, when it hit a record high of 4.3 million, according to Cheryl Russell, a demographer and editor in chief of New Strategist Press. In 2015, 3,978,000 babies were born, the National Center for Health Statistics reported, ten thousand fewer than the year before. 

“In general, states are growing more slowly in 2015-16 than they were in 2010-11,” Russell said in an email. “Behind that trend is the baby bust, which started in 2010. The decline in births is reducing natural increase, especially in states with older populations such as Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania is one of seven states that lost population between 2015 and 2016, the Census Bureau reported. Illinois lost more residents than any other state, 37,500, while Connecticut, Mississippi, New York, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming all bled population. 

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