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America at 300 Million and Counting


It was a little unnerving, earlier this week, watching the U.S. Census Bureau's population clock hit 300 million and keep right on ticking -- adding yet another new American every eleven seconds.

When the nation hit 200 million just 39 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson threw a party in front of the clock. But there's no party this time, given the sensitivity to the issue of immigration this election year. That's because the population count -- which is just an educated guess, of course -- includes a swelling number of illegal as well as legal newcomers who are fast changing the ethnic makeup of our land. They're a big part of the reason the U.S. population will likely hit the 400 million mark just 35 years from now.

A cartoon in Tuesday's Washington Post newspaper harked back to an event long ago, when officials from the railroad companies that furiously built tracks from the east and west for a great transcontinental line celebrated at the point where the tracks finally met by driving a ceremonial golden spike. The cartoon shows two workers today, pounding a spike at the point where a surging East Coast housing development bumps into a mammoth subdivision sprawling from the West.

In truth there's plenty of open space left, and if every new American wanted to live there it would be easier to deal with the 100 million additional people of diverse backgrounds who'll squeeze inside our borders between now and 2041. Whatever we do, we'd best get started, since that clock never pauses: 300,001,999 . . . 300,002,000 . . . 300,002,001. . .

More essays in Ted Landphair's Only in America series