US population passes 300 million mark

Updated: 2006-10-18 07:14

WASHINGTON - Maybe there will be a bigger party when the population hits 400 million. Save the date: 2043. America's official population passed the 300 million mark Tuesday, fueled by a growing number of immigrants and their children.

In this image made from television, the U.S. population estimate table is shown as it reaches the 300 million mark, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006, at the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Md. The moment, recorded at 7:46 a.m. EDT, passed with little fanfare, perhaps dampened by a divisive debate over illegal immigration and the fact that many experts think the population had already hit the 300 million mark months ago.

There were no fireworks or government-sponsored celebrations. Just a written statement from

President Bush near the end of the work day, welcoming the milestone as "further proof that the American Dream remains as bright and hopeful as ever."

"It's a couple of weeks before an election when illegal immigration is a high-profile issue, and they don't want to make a big deal out of it," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

It's been 39 years since the U.S. population reached 200 million. Since then, about 55 percent of the growth has come from immigrants, their children and their grandchildren, according to a recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization.

In other words, if the U.S. had cut off all immigration since 1967, the population would be about 245 million - and a lot less diverse, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the center.

"We've had much more Asian and Latino immigration than white and black," said Passel, the study's author. "That has led to the racial and ethnic diversity that we have today."

When the population hit 200 million in 1967, more than 80 percent of Americans were white and less than 5 percent were Hispanic. Less than 1 percent were Asian.

Today, Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the population and Asians about 5 percent. White non-Hispanics account for about 67 percent, blacks a little more than 13 percent.

By 2043, white non-Hispanics are expected to be a little more than half. That's the year the population is projected to hit 400 million, though the numbers could change significantly depending on immigration and birth rates.

In 1967, President Johnson held a news conference at the

Commerce Department to mark the 200 million milestone. He hailed the country's past and talked about the challenges ahead. Life magazine dispatched a cadre of photographers to find a baby born at the exact moment, anointing a boy born in Atlanta as the 200 millionth American.

This year, there's a good chance the 300 millionth American walked across the border from Mexico months ago.

Commerce Secretary

Carlos Gutierrez, himself an immigrant from Cuba, said the Bush administration isn't playing down the milestone, though no public events were scheduled.

"I would hate to think that we are going to be low key about this," said Gutierrez, whose department oversees the

Census Bureau. "I would hope that we make a big deal about it."