One in Three American Counties Is Dying Off

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About one in three U.S. counties are now dying off, as their populations get older and the dead are not replaced with births.

The 2012 census estimates were released Thursday and show a population shift in America, as the country experiences its slowest growth levels since the Great Depression.

It also demonstrates the importance of foreign-born citizens as the country discusses an overhaul of a major 1965 immigration law. The lack of immigrants has caused major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh to face flat or negative population growth in the last year.

“Immigrants are innovators, entrepreneurs, they’re making things happen. They create jobs,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, said. During the immigration conference held in Michigan he discussed the benefits of immigrants moving to Detroit and other areas struggling with a down economy. He asked foreigners to “please come here.”

Data from the census show that 1,135 of the nation’s 3,143 counties are experiencing a “natural decrease” where deaths outnumber births. That’s a significant increase from 880 counties, or 1 in 4, in 2009.

Though deaths have outnumbered births in some areas, the overall U.S. population is still growing, from immigration and relatively higher births among younger migrants coming from Mexico, Latin America and Asia.

“These counties are in a pretty steep downward spiral,” Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer and sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire said. “The young people leave and the older adults stay in place and age. Unless something dramatic changes - for instance, new development such as a meatpacking plant to attract young Hispanics - these areas are likely to have more and more natural decrease.”

Areas facing a decrease enter around industrial areas near Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and also spread across areas around San Francisco, Texas, and the Great Plains.

And some states are facing a decrease, as Main joined West Virginia last year as the only two states in the country where deaths outnumbered births. In 2012, the population of America grew by 0.75 percent, the lowest level of growth since 1937.

Johnson said the number of dying counties is up not just because of a lack of births, but because of an increasing mortality rate. Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are now getting much older. “I expect natural decrease to remain high in the future,” he said.