Friday, November 27, 2020

Lawler: The Dismal Demographics of 2020

by Calculated Risk on 11/27/2020 09:35:00 AM

From housing economist Tom Lawler: The Dismal Demographics of 2020

Surging deaths, plummeting net international migration, and a likely further decline in births in 2020 should result in an astonishing slowdown in US population growth this year. Using reasonable assumptions for all three key “components of change,” US population growth from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020 will be only 0.22% (about 720,000).


Beginning not too long ago the CDC began releasing provisional weekly estimates of US deaths – not just those attributable to Covid-19, but total deaths as well. While the data for much of this year is not complete – especially for the most recent weeks – because of reporting delays, the data nonetheless provide analysts with a general idea of the direction of deaths.

Below is a table comparing deaths by selected age groups over the 42-week period ending 10/24/2020 to deaths over the 42-week period ending 10/26/2019. (Data for 2020 have been released through the second week of November, but reporting delays massively understate deaths for the latest weeks available). Also shown are deaths directly attributable to Covid-19 through October 10/24/2020.

CDC Estimates of US Deaths by Selected Age Groups
< 2525-4445-6465-7475-8485+Total
Covid 194876,16339,86247,98959,01368,188221,702
Ex Covid51,101135,201458,819477,092578,726720,8842,421,823
Total Delta4.0%20.6%12.9%15.1%13.2%10.4%12.8%
Ex-Covid Delta3.0%15.3%3.9%4.5%2.7%0.9%3.4%

As the table shows, deaths in the US year-to-date in 2020 were at least 12.8% (or 300,548) above the comparable period of 2019, and deaths not directly attributable to Covid-19 were up at least 3.4% (or 78,846). Note that in % terms the biggest increase in deaths from a year ago has been in the 25-44 year old category. While the factors behind the increase in non-Covid-related deaths are not known, possible reasons include Covid-related deaths not identified as such, people not accessing medical treatment because of the pandemic, and what appears to be a substantial increase in the number of drug overdose deaths.

Projecting deaths for the balance of 2020 is tricky, though most experts are expecting that Covid-related deaths will turn back up in December. Using low-end projections for Covid deaths, below is a table showing what I believe is a reasonable (and probably slightly too low) projection of deaths in 2020 compared to 2019 (note that the 2019 numbers are an estimate based on weekly CDC data; the official report on US mortality in 2019 has not yet been released)

Estimated US Deaths by Selected Age Groups (Calendar Year)
 < 2525-4445-6465-7475-8485+Total

Net International Migration

There is little doubt that the pandemic, combined with a host of actions by the Administration, has resulted in a sharp reduction in both immigration to and emigration from the United States. Unfortunately, I do not know of any timely data sources that would enable one to estimate year-to-date net international migration. The last Census estimate of NIM was 595,000 for the 12 month period ending 6/30/2019. In my view, though not supported by data, I’d say an estimate of 250,000 for net international migration in 2020 seems plausible.


While I do not know of any timely data on total US births in 2020, births have steadily declined over the past five years, and most experts expect that births were down slightly in 2020. Experts expect that the pandemic will ultimately result in a significant reduction in births, that decline will mainly show up in 2021. (There is a known lag between conception and birth!). The CDC’s provisional estimate for births was 3,745,540 in 2019 compared to 3,791,712 in 2018. A reasonable projection for 2020 would be around 3,700,000.

Adding Things Up
While the last official Census estimate of the US resident population was for July 1, 2019 (the so-called “Vintage 2019” estimate), Census also produced “Vintage 2019” one-year ahead population projections by month through December 1, 2020. (These should not be confused with Census’ long-term population projections, the latest of which was produced in 2017 and which are hopelessly out of date). While the projections for most of 2020 will be way too high, the projection for January 1, 2020 (pre-pandemic) are probably not too far off.

The “Vintage 2019” projection for the US residential population for January 1, 2020 was 329,135,084. If one assumes that the deaths, net international migration, and birth projections for 2020 are reasonable, then a reasonable projection for the US residential population on January 1, 2021 would be:

329,135,084 – 3,230,084 + 250,000 + 3,700,000 = 329,855,000.

Such an estimate would mean that the US resident population from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020 increased by just 719,916, or 0.22%. By comparison, US population growth from 2010 to 2016 averaged about 2.27 million a year (or 0.72% annual growth).

In a later report I will have estimates of the change in population by age groups. It appears, however, that from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020 the US working age population did not increase at all.