Add another crisis to the heap. 

We have a serious headcount problem in America. Our population growth is alarmingly low, with little to no signs of improving. 

This isn’t a grand discovery on our part. It’s been trending this way for decades. You can find a bunch of articles about how 2021 yielded the lowest population growth rate in our nation’s long history. None of them are front page above the fold. Perhaps there are too many other crises vying for clicks.

Inflation, energy prices, and COVID are more imminent. Climate change and food sustainability are more existential. Monkeypox has a catchy name. 

But this one is a really big deal with enormous long-term implications. 

Americans are getting older by the minute. And, notwithstanding Elon Musk’s efforts to single-handedly fertilize our way out of it, people are having fewer kids. 

There are a lot of reasons. Positive among them is the agency women have gained over their lives and careers. (Before you email me saying abortion restrictions are a solution, just scroll on down to the unsubscribe link.) Negative among them is the cost of raising children and our growing reticence to bring more innocent people into an uncertain world.

Then we have immigration – or lack thereof. Estimates peg the number at about 2 million fewer immigrants in the U.S. than we should have. Policy was the main culprit. COVID certainly didn’t help. Economic growth in Latin America was a (positive) factor. We simply might not be as desirable as we once were.

Regardless of how we got here, .1% population gains in a country that averages 3.1% annual GDP growth is a catastrophe waiting to happen. If you think worker shortages are a problem right now, just wait. 

The list of things we take for granted in this country is endless. For generations, we expected people to relocate to find work, from the 49ers going west for gold to the Steelers fleeing Pittsburgh when the mills closed. The ever-entitled Boomers stopped that cold, expecting plentiful jobs in their backyards, then blaming politicians (and immigrants) when there weren’t. Always the Boomer clones, Millennials have elevated hometown stasis to new levels.

We’ve taken population growth for granted for 250 years. No more.

If you’re trying to strategize for the future based on data or truisms of the past, you need to stop. Nothing about today is precedented.

Whether you whistle through the graveyard or embrace and plan for it is entirely up to you.  

Here’s what we’re seeing: 

A lot of Americans dipped into their retirement accounts to weather the pandemic. Fourteen percent of U.S. adults overall and 23% of pre-retirement adults with retirement funds tapped into their money early (with requisite penalties) since the beginning of COVID. Hopefully they did it several months ago when the markets were at their peak. No surprise, it was most common among people in lower income brackets and particularly prevalent among the 23% of households that live paycheck to paycheck. Just another ugly sign of unending wealth inequality in our country. 

In related, only-a-matter-of-time news, people are returning to work and/or changing jobs to navigate economic headwinds. We’ve been saying for over a year that the so-called Great Resignation was a farce – or at least temporary and grossly misnamed. The majority of people who walked away from jobs in the COVID era were younger workers in lower paying jobs who could subsist for a period of time on savings and stimulus proceeds. Naturally, as those funds dwindled and inflation reared its head, a correction was inevitable. One-in-five Americans have either reentered the workforce or taken on additional work and income because of rising prices this year. They over-index young. Expect this to climb even faster in the fall. And yes, it’s good for employers. 


The crypto market could be bringing some people back to work too. We got a ton of press last year when we reported a non-trivial number of younger workers bowing out of the workforce (temporarily) thanks to quick gains from cryptocurrency investments. Well, that worm turned and now nearly half of crypto investors have yanked some or all of their holdings in recent months. Most of them are younger and lower income. Wealthier investors have mostly stood pat, shifting their mindset to crypto as a long-term play, not a get-rich-quick lottery ticket. We’re still in the earliest days of watching this unfold. 

Of course there’s a severe tampon shortage. Adding to the deluge of hardships we prevail upon women in this country is a serious shortfall in menstrual care products. One-in-five U.S. women have either been impacted by product scarcity or know someone who has – yet again, the problem is worse the further down the income ladder you go. To adapt, these women have been forced to do everything from switching brands to switching period care methods altogether. Obviously, supply chain, inflation, and COVID lockdowns in China are to blame. Funny, I can’t remember reading about a Viagra or alpha blocker shortage.

Inflation has been good for discount-hunting sites. I have to admit when I first read the headline of this study, I thought it was about discount sites for hunters, which sounded cool. But no, it’s about online retailers like RetailMeNot and Rakuten, where bargain explorers can get all manner of goods on the cheap. No surprise, they’ve seen an uptick in traffic over the past six months, but not as much as you might think. As I’ve told you, the Americans who have been most spooked by inflation skew politically right, older, male, and rural – the same group that is less apt to be digitally savvy. Political tribalism impacts everything.


A couple more studies from the CivicScientists this week:

  • Thirty-eight percent of adults don’t shower every day and here’s how you can spot them;
  • Toys ‘R’ Us is coming back – in Macy’s – and people are interested.

The most popular questions this week:

Answer Key: Criminally inappropriate; 150; Chicharrones; Super-cringe; Never, because I’m always tired;

Hoping you’re well.


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