Population growth in the United States is slowing each year. It reached its lowest rate since the Great Depression in 2015-16. Demographers say that this slow growth is largely due to the aging of our population. But immigration growth is also declining, though during the past three years our levels of immigration have grown for the first time since the 2007-2009 recession. The lead cause in these shifts is our declining birth rate. Yet in spite of the numbers we still have a positive natural increase while countries like Germany and Japan do not. Demographers predict this decrease will continue for some years to come. This will stress our social systems such as Medicare and Social Security, stressing again the warnings we’ve had for several decades but rarely had the political will to resolve.
What solutions do we have to protect the needs of our aging population and the well-being of our society overall? Answer: invest in a serious immigration strategy that shores up the younger segment of our society overall. Do we have the resolve and will to do this? Based upon our recent election it seems quite doubtful. Our aging population needs immigrants who earn a living and invest in programs like Social Security. I believe it is imperative that we be aware of this shift and that we resolve to increase legal immigration even while we are attempting to slow illegal immigration.
In 2016 my state of Illinois lost more residents than any other state in America for the third consecutive year. We are one of eight states that lost residents overall. In the past year 37,000 more people have left our state. Why? Again, the reasons are both clear and unclear. One is our high tax and incredibly high cost of living. Working class people cannot afford to live here and even upper middle income people are finding it desirable to find a more tax-friendly state without the problems that our state faces with its budget and legislative failures.
During the recession Western and Southern states such as Nevada, Arizona and Florida took big hits but they are now recovering and growing again. States with higher costs of living, like New York, California and Ohio, are all declining. Once robust California also saw an increase in what is called “out-migration.” Domestic workers are moving away in search of better jobs and a lower cost of living. New York is seeing more people move to the Southeast while Utah is now the nation’s fastest-growing state. Its population increased by 2.0% to 3.1 million, while North Dakota, the growth leader in 2014-15, fell to the 15th slowest growth state in 2015-16. Why? Its economic growth was based on oil extraction and the slow down in this industry has caused the decrease. Illinois, however, also had the largest out-migration since 1990.
These changes will likely have some bearing on future elections but more importantly the overall trends do not reveal a robust economic growth for the largest number of our people. We still have the problem of the wealthiest are growing their income each year while larger numbers of our people are left behind with stagnant economic growth or, in most cases, a loss in overall income. We’ve seen the political implications of this reality recently.
We are likely going to see more social and spiritual impact from these realities in the coming days. Churches in our area in sharp decline. The exception, in my area, is usually the large evangelical mega-church, though the growth in these churches is not huge. Yet few talk about how many smaller evangelicals churches have closed in recent years. In my area three of the five largest evangelical churches during my five decades here are now near death.The net growth of the church continues to decline sharply in every part of the country. This trend is especially in my state and region. In time this will result in more churches closing, more church buildings being sold and more people without anything like a spiritual home that resembles a church. This will also lead to an increase in social needs without churches to care for people.
In an age that I call “post-denominational” I see a silver lining in all these changes. We might embrace missional-ecumenism out of the sheer reality that our church patterns have failed and people are leaving. A new way of being and doing church is clearly necessary. Will our leaders awaken to these simple facts before it is too late to stem this rising tide of loss? Will we became partners in mission or remain competitive?