America, the Underpopulated?


A recent editorial in The New York Sun argues that all this political bickering about immigration among Republican candidates misses an important truth: America is actually underpopulated. From the article:

[N]ot a single Republican candidate has spoken up for the idea that America is an underpopulated country. In terms of population density, it is, at 83 persons a square mile, an impoverished country, barely a quarter of the rich density of China, which is running way behind India. America just has enormous room for population growth.

And a desperate need.

What do you think, readers?  Is America under-populated? Would Montana and Wyoming, for example, benefit from a few more people?

(HT: Paul Kedrosky)


To the extent that economic growth depends, at least in part, on an expanding population I agree with the premise. But the key is attracting immigrants who contribute to society rather than take from it. In other words, I agree with the comment that it's the quality rather than the quantity of immigration that is important. This is what seems counterproductive in our immigration policy concerning educated individuals. We seem to be bent on limiting the flow of contributing immigrants and opening the floodgates for the less educated. Apparently Congress may be willing to address the first part of this problem, not so much the second.


Where should new immigrants go? How about rust-belt cities that have been depopulated over the last half-century?


If I were a right-of-center economist who disputes the existence and degree of climate change, I would ask whether the USA was truly underpopulated.

Since I work for a living, and consequently have my labor capital diminished by Tom Friedman's nirvana, I have to ask the real question: are there areas of the world that are overpopulated?


Just as the Fed should develop a target amount of inflation to inform the rest of its policies, nations should develop target population growth or objective in order to inform other public policies. No, government need not establish draconian measures to enforce the targets, but governments act blindly when they don’t have any targets toward which to design their myriad policies.

What should we do about immigration? That depends on what population we think is optimal.

Should we try to address the problems of unwed pregnancy and single-parent households by discouraging reproduction, or by encouraging stable marriages? Depends on what kind of population we think is optimal.

What income can we expect the Social Security Administration to receive from the US labor force decades into the future? Depends on what kind of population we design policies for.

Should we develop a military based on troop strength, or based on technology? Depends on what kind of population we design policies for.

Etc., etc., etc.



compared to Europe (and other parts of the world) the US is really underpopulated.
As some have mentioned - new immigrants will go where there is work, which is mostly in the already overpopulated commercial centres (like NY, CA, etc...).
Driving immigrants to less populated areas would be indeed very helpful, but just by asking them to do it won't help.
One could try to give out more visas to business founders who move to less populated areas, but I doubt this will attract a long-term effect, you will not see any high-tech start-ups being founded in the middle of nowhere.
PS: greetings from a European country with twice as high population density than NJ, I would love to live in a place like North Dakota (if there would be money...)

EB Hansen

Not all of America's space is in the West.

Much of Northern and Central Pennsylvania is very thinly populated, but you can be in a major urban center in just a few hours drive.

It lacks the Wests dramatic beauty, but the climate isn't bad.


Gary Johnson is an advocate of immigration. More than all other Replubican candidates and even more than the current administration.


When you go to the root of it, population density is felt less as being about land per se, and more as being about generalised capital. Countries are more welcoming of immigrants when the average person feels that there is more capital to put to work than they could put to work themselves.


It's interesting how often such comparison is set up just to elicit a reaction -- in this case a densely populated country vs USA. Is there a need for comparison at all? Who truly wants to live in a densely populated place? Have you lived in a densely populated place where people steam roll over each other for resources? Quality of life is completely compromised, and the people who truly benefit from densely populated countries are the 1%.

Immigration is no doubt important and necessary, but please don't drag a first world country down to a third and call that a winner for immigrants. No immigrants from a third world country want to come to the US and have to re-live the third world life. Immigrants come here for a BETTER life!