The U.S. population is growing at the slowest rate since the Great Depression after two decades of robust increases.

For two consecutive years since 2009, the population has grown just 0.7% a year, down from annual increases around 1% in previous years and the lowest since the late 1930s. The U.S. gained 2.2 million people from 2010 to 2011 — fewer than the 2.8 million added a decade earlier — reaching a total of 311.6 million.

“Almost anybody who observes these things over the years can say this is almost all recession-related,” says Carl Haub, demographer for the Population Reference Bureau.

The government says the recession ended in June 2009. Although the economy has improved, the downturn’s effect on birth and immigration lingers. The number of babies born from July 1, 2010, to July 2011 dropped 200,000 from the same period in 2008-09. The number of additional immigrants fell 150,000.

“It’s an indicator of an unhealthy economy,” Haub says. “People are obviously still delaying births, and immigration has continued to drop because job opportunities are not there.”

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