The Census Bureau, the official population counter, issued a brief news release Thursday predicting that the nation will hit the number at about 7:46 a.m. Tuesday. There will be no news conference, no administration officials celebrating in front of the cameras.
It's a far cry from the way the government handled such a turning point in 1967. About 500 spectators jammed the lobby of the Commerce Department and President Lyndon Johnson stood in front of the "census clock" as it counted the 200 millionth American.
Johnson's speech "was interrupted by applause and cheering" when the clock turned, according to a Nov. 21, 1967, front-page article in The New York Times. The event was so choreographed that the clock was slowed three minutes to make sure the president would be in position when it registered the magic number.
Not this year.
"We are not in the business of celebrating," says Mark Tolbert, Census spokesman.
The contrast between the hoopla of 1967 and the subdued approach of 2006 shows how much the social and political climates have changed, demographers and others say.
"There is no way that you can talk about our arrival at 300 million without pointing to the fact that immigration is such a heavy component of the annual growth," says Jacob Siegel, a retired Census statistician who worked for the agency in 1967. "There's no political advantage in getting in this hot issue."
Less than a month remains before midterm elections, in which control of Congress is at stake. And the past year has seen heated debates on how to handle the estimated 12 million immigrants here illegally.
That wasn't an issue in 1967. Two years earlier, Johnson signed a law that reopened the borders after four decades of shutting out immigrants.
"Immigrants were a much smaller share of the population (then), probably smallest in our history," says Jeffrey Passel, demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. Passel's calculations show that immigrants and their U.S.-born offspring accounted for 55% of the increase in population since the last milestone.
Other factors in the nation's growth are births and longer life spans. Census projections show that the USA, which records a net gain of one person every 11 seconds, will reach 400 million by around 2040.
Posted 10/12/2006 9:30 PM ET
By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY
Population Clocks here . . .