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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The Census Bureau has been busy crunching U.S. population numbers and it has an official prediction. Tomorrow morning right before 8:00 a.m. some hospital, courtroom or border crossing will welcome the 300th million American. In a few minutes we'll talk to a noted demographer about what it all means and we'll bring you a pop culture timeline, but first, who are we at 300 million?

NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH: The number 300 million is what is known as an odometer moment. It doesn't mean much officially but it sure is fun to watch all those nines on the U.S. Census official web clock change over to zeros. If you could hear those population numbers growing and shifting it would sound something like this.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

SMITH: Every seven seconds a baby is born in America and then by the 13th second

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

SMITH: Someone dies and then.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

SMITH: Another baby is born, probably not white.

Ms. LINDA JACOBSEN (Population Reference Bureau): They are definitely more likely to be members of a racial and ethnic minority.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

SMITH: That's Linda Jacobsen from the Population Reference Bureau.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

SMITH: This clock chugs along with births almost double deaths and then the crucial factor in the United States uniqueness comes in. Every 31 seconds, an immigrant crosses the border.

(Soundbite of boat horn)

SMITH: Okay, the boat horn is clearly outdated. Mexico now sends the largest number of both legal and illegal immigrants. Within this ticking population clock is a shift in who we are and how we live. Although we've always been an immigrant nation, we're finding at 300 million that those immigrants are more geographically spread out around the country.

Mr. MIGUEL VALDEZ: My name is Miguel (unintelligible) Valdez. I live in Rochester, Minnesota.

SMITH: Valdez followed an increasingly popular path from his birthplace in Monterey, Mexico. He entered through a big city, Houston, and lived in another, Minneapolis. Now he lives in an increasingly diverse suburban area.

Mr. VALDEZ: When I was younger I was feeling out of place, you know? But now it's fine. Now I see Latino people everywhere, like I was (unintelligible), you know? Small town, big town, suburbs. You always hear somebody.

SMITH: It's not surprising. We're increasingly a suburban nation, with 50 percent of the country filling in those sprawling spaces on the outskirts of large cities. They get more space and increasingly according to the census, more solitude.

Mr. DAVID KENNY: My name is David Kenny. I'm 40 years old. I live alone. I have two cats as companions.

SMITH: The number of one-person households has grown from 17 percent in 1970 to 26 percent now. Kenny lives in Boston and says he knows a lot of people who live alone by choice.

Mr. KENNY: Somehow we're all a bit self-conscious about being single, you know, what is this about? Is this a trend? Is it different than it ever was? Sometimes we all feel like we have to defend it in a way. You know, what's a 40-year-old guy doing living alone, single, you know? Like what's wrong with him? Well, you know, I don't think that I'm extraordinarily damaged or deranged compared to my peers.

SMITH: Demographer Linda Jacobsen says it's a combination of things. People getting married later.

Ms. JACOBSEN: And also it's a result of increases in divorce rates. Especially at older ages, women are less likely to remarry, so when they're divorced or widowed they live on their own for a longer period of time. So it's really both the young and the increasing elderly population that are driving that increase.

SMITH: Sixty percent of women now work and work longer than they did before and increasingly, live longer.

Ms. HELEN HOLMAN: My name is Helen Holman and I live in Oakland.

SMITH: Holman is 100 years old, born before the population hit its first 100 million mark and in some measure symbolic of the last 100 years. She was born in Colorado and grew up on a farm, but like many of her contemporaries moved west into a big city.

Ms. HOLMAN: It surprises me when I have to say how old I am because I was always looking forward to being 100 and now I'm 100, and things just seem to be the same.

SMITH: So if all these people are the new faces of America, who are the losers in the population game? Well, people like me. I'm a married white man with two kids living in a Northeastern city. Jacobsen says the rest of the country is becoming more and more unlike me.

Ms. JACOBSEN: I'm sorry, but it is. There are less households that consist of married couples with children. There's certainly a smaller share of the population that's non-Hispanic white, so you are part of the shrinking majority who will soon, or at least by 2050, be part of the minority.

SMITH: And so when the 300th million person comes tomorrow morning, probably in the South or West, perhaps a racial or ethnic minority, the nation shifts just a little bit more toward a very different looking 400 million.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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