In this brief, Carsey Senior Demographer Kenneth Johnson reports that COVID’s impact is reflected in the sharp rise in U.S. deaths, reaching 3,434,000 between July 2020 and July 2021. This is a record high and 20 percent more than two years ago before the COVID pandemic. Births diminished to just 3,582,000, the fewest since 1979. The primary driver of U.S. population growth has long been the substantial surplus of births over deaths. This surplus has now dwindled to just 148,000, compared to 923,000 two years ago—an 84 percent decline. With immigration also at a low ebb, the population grew by just 393,000—the lowest rate of annual population increase in history and the smallest numeric gain in more than one hundred years.

These national trends are important, but one stark statistic conveys COVID’s grim impact on local communities: more people died than were born in 2,297 (73 percent) of the nation’s 3,143 counties between July of 2020 and July of 2021. This is the most counties to suffer such a loss in U.S. history and 60 percent more than before the COVID pandemic began two years ago.

Even before COVID, the number of deaths was growing annually, while the number of births was diminishing. COVID certainly exacerbated these trends, but over the long-term, mortality is likely to continue to rise among the aging U.S. population, and the decline in births, which began during the Great Recession, appears to be ongoing. How protracted the additional fertility decline and mortality increases associated with COVID will be remains to be seen, but to date they have dramatically reduced population growth in the United States.


Carsey School of Public Policy

Publication Date

Spring 3-24-2022


National Issue Brief No. 161


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



Copyright 2022. Carsey School of Public Policy. These materials may be used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, contact the copyright holder.





To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.