School Overcrowding -- No One Mentions Immigration as Culprit

By Linda Thom
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 11, Number 3 (Spring 2001)
Issue theme: "George W. Bush, last Republican president? And does it matter?"

Recently, the Census Bureau released its annual report on school enrollment. The news story entitled 'Children of Baby Boomers and Immigrants Boost School Enrollment to Equal All-Time High, Census Bureau Reports,' finally suggests that immigration is part of the cause of school overcrowding. In prior years, the reports by the Census Bureau as well as those of the Department of Education blamed the nation's overcrowded classrooms entirely on baby boomers' children, so some progress is being made.

Linda Thom is a former budget analyst in the office of the Santa Barbara (CA) County administrator. This essay is reprinted by permission from Unfortunately, the Census Bureau still does not have it right. Baby boomers' children did not boost school enrollment to an all-time high; only immigrants' children did so.

The first paragraph of the press release states that school enrollment reached its last peak in 1970 with 49 million baby boomer students. Baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964, according to the Census folks. In 1999, school enrollment again equaled 49 million students. If enrollment in 1970 is the same as enrollment in 1999 - 49 million - then there has been no boost in enrollment, right? The same is the same, not a boost. But never mind. According to the release, 'About 1 in 5 elementary and high school students had at least one foreign-born parent in 1999.' One in five students equals 20 percent of the 49 million students, or 9.8 million students with foreign-born parents.

Now this is really easy, so just follow along. If, in 1999, 9.8 million students had foreign-born parents, then 49 million students minus 9.8 million students equals 39.2 million children without foreign-born parents. One would assume that most of these 39.2 children are the offspring of baby boomers. So where are we? In 1970, we had 49 million baby boomers in school and in 1999 we had 39.2 million children of baby boomers in school. If our schools had only baby boomers' children to contend with, enrollment would have declined by 9.8 million students, right?

See, it was really easy. Baby boomers' children did not boost school enrollment. Baby boomers' children caused a decline in enrollment.

So why do you suppose the Census Bureau is still blaming baby boomers? Do you think they may be bad at numbers?

About the author

Linda Thom is a former budget analyst in the office of the Santa Barbara (CA) County administrator. This essay is reprinted by permission from

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