Our population projections rely on the cohort component method used by the U.S. Census Bureau and other demographic research organizations. Projections are long-term forecasts, or estimates, based on what we know about populations today and projecting those trends into the future. They allow for different assumptions—like varying immigration rates—to lead to different projected outcomes.
In this study, baseline population data were drawn from the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) by age, sex, race, and place of birth (immigrant/nonimmigrant). Necessary demographic components for population projections were drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 national projections, including mortality, fertility, and migration rates.
People both enter the U.S. (immigrants) and leave the U.S. (emigrants).4 The combined effect leads to a net migration rate, with a positive rate indicating more immigrants entering than emigrants leaving. Different levels of immigration were added to the net migration calculation while keeping emigration constant across all scenarios.
The study considers five immigration scenarios, based on immigration levels in 2017:
- Zero immigration
- Low—about 600,000 immigrants coming to the U.S. annually
- Recent—at least 1.2 million immigrants coming to the U.S. annually
- High—at least 1.8 million immigrants coming to the U.S. annually
- Very high—at least 2.4 million immigrants coming to the U.S. annually
The resulting population growth was estimated for each immigration scenario, keeping other population dynamics constant.5
Economic growth is based on population projections for demographic groups using economic and employment data from the 2018 ACS. These economic projections do not take into account sudden economic shocks, slumps, or recoveries. Economic growth is expressed as GDP using constant 2018 U.S. dollars, calculated as the total income of the U.S. population. Efforts were made to make these U.S. GDP measures comparable to international GDP measures that use constant 2016 U.S. dollars.
Models using different compositions for future immigration (for example, more highly skilled individuals) were adjusted based on immigrant education levels. Population projections calculated the relative size of the senior population (aged 65 and older) compared with the working-age population (16 to 64). Similarly, estimated payroll taxes were based on recent income data from the Current Population Survey, combined with trust fund totals from the Social Security Administration. These data were used to calculate inflow and outflow contributions from the Social Security Trust Fund. Payroll taxes were assumed to remain constant throughout the projection period.
Finally, recent events associated with the COVID-19 pandemic likely led to lower immigration to the U.S. in 2020. The pandemic has also led to lower GDP in 2020. The models do not reflect this slump in population and economic growth. It is assumed that this drop in 2020 and immediate years thereafter will rebound. Separate models were calculated taking into consideration this decrease in immigration and GDP, and showed minimal differences for long-term projections.