Much fuss has been made about this magic number, 300 million, in terms of the population of the United States. Allegedly, according to the Census Bureau, we reached this noteworthy number just last week. According to the statistics, we have seen 30% population growth over the last 40 years, 60% of that growth being from births, the other 40% being due to immigration from abroad. 300 million---that's a big number.
So, what does it really mean? How does it effect me? Some commentators I heard on the radio noted that it means longer lines at Starbucks and busier streets. Waiting an extra three minutes for coffee at my local cafe (NOT Starbucks!) is really the least of my worries.
From my perspective, there are many meanings and reverberations of this massive population growth, and this is in no way an exhaustive list, by any means. To wit:
---increasing numbers of those living in poverty
---more children going hungry
---more Americans without health insurance
---an inadequate healthcare infrastructure to handle such growth
---more unchecked pedestrian-unfriendly development and sprawl
---more market share for Wal-Mart
---more gas stations, more banks, more delivery trucks, more congestion
---more people to whom corporations can peddle their unnecessary wares
---an exponential growth in the number of cars on the road
---more poor and working class people for military recruiters to target
---a devastatingly corpulent Military-Industrial Complex
---a further shortage in space in colleges and universities for worthy students
---increasingly crowded emergency rooms
---an exacerbated shortage of nurses and nursing faculty
---a riotously damaged environment
---a growing Prison-Industrial Complex
---further decimation of open space and farmland for unchecked development
---more schools that the federal government will not adequately fund
---more children left behind by the "No Child Left Behind" Act
---further demographic shifts into the sprawling suburbs
---the continued decline of numerous American cities
---more people for the government to exploit and deceive
---more intolerance of new immigrant populations and their needs
If I have left anything out, please do chime in. While I welcome new citizens and new babies entering the world, I simply see this country as inadequately prepared to support such growth at this time in history. While we can't (and should not) artificially stem the tide of births and immigration, we should, in my opinion, focus on developing strategies and methods for accomodating this expansion of the population judiciously and intelligently.
We need better funding for schools, legislation to curb sprawl and encourage "smart growth", wider use of renewable energy sources, clean mass transit, universal healthcare, universal access to higher education, low-interest small business loans, government subsidizing of nursing schools and nursing education, increased federal subsidies of student loans, expanded government stipends for healthcare workers choosing to work with vulnerable populations, more affordable housing, a narrowing "Digital Divide", job training for those unable to enter college, improved reentry programs for those leaving prison. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Yes, 300 million is a number which the media can latch onto. It smacks of pride and a cockily arrogant sense that America's power in numbers has in no way diminished. Yes, the number is large, and the population does indeed continue to swell, pregnant with possibility and fraught with the potential for disaster. In this land of plenty, we still see countless go hungry, our charitable institutions already stretched beyond capacity.
When we reach 325 million, what will the soup kitchens do then? How long will the ER wait be at that juncture? How many more stores will Wal-Mart have built in order to sell us even more items made in sweat-shops in Indonesia, China, and Mexico by workers unprotected by rights which we hold dear here in our own homeland, their environments degraded by lax regulations so that American companies can generate enormous profits at home? How many more billions will McDonald's have sold, further augmenting the obesity epidemic which strangles our healthcare system and economy with unnecessary costs?
300 million. We can put away the champagne and confetti now that the media has had its day. Now we must roll up our sleeves and decide whether we will allow this number to simply sink our society under the weight of its own metastatic expansion. We have a responsility to these new members of our human family here on this continent, and we'd better think fast.