WASHINGTON — After two centuries of boom and bust, America's population growth may finally be leveling off.
In all, the U.S. population is now increasing a bit faster, thanks to an improving economy, but not enough to lift growth above its lowest level since the Great Depression.
The nation is getting older and is less likely than before to be married, with women waiting longer to have children, if at all. Immigration from other countries is on an upswing after years of sharp declines during the recession but may never return to the peak level it reached in the early 2000s.
New 2012 estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau offer the latest snapshot of the U.S. population, showing signs of revival and change in pockets of the country, especially in Sun Belt states hard hit during the recent recession.
"After decades of wars, a depression, immigration surges, baby booms, boomlets and busts, we are entering a new era of modest growth," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the numbers. "This is a result of our aging population, lower fertility rates and immigration levels that will probably not produce sharp population spikes."
As a whole, the U.S. population grew by 2.3 million, reaching 313.9 million people. That growth rate of 0.75 percent was higher than the 0.73 percent rate in 2011, ending five years of slowing growth rates. Nevertheless, the rate of growth remains stuck at historically low levels not seen since 1937, restrained by reduced childbirths.
The Census Bureau released state population estimates as of July 1, 2012.
The data suggest that the impact of the recession on formerly fast-growing Sun Belt states may be waning. Arizona and Florida, two housing boom-and-bust states, also showed renewed migration gains after seeing their growth drop off sharply at the end of the last decade.