How Many Americans Have A Passport?
How many Americans have a passport? This was the question I once received from a British friend who, like many of her fellow countrymen, had the impression that the majority of Americans do not have passports, and therefore cannot travel outside its borders. I had no idea as to the answer, so I decided to do a little research, and the numbers are somewhat surprising.
The quick answer is that yes, sadly enough, most Americans do not have a passport. The number of Americans who have a valid passport, according to the most recent statistics issued by the State Department in January of 2013, is about 39% of the population. (This excludes passport cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean.)
To calculate this percentage, I simply added up the number of passports issued during the last 10 years (passports expire every ten years), and divided that number by the country’s population, which for 2012 was 313,949,040. Since 121,838,222 passports were issued in the last decade, that means that 39% of the American population has a passport. This also means that about 3 out of every 5 Americans can’t even fly to Canada, let alone travel to anywhere else in the world.
So has this number been going up or down in the last few years?
As indicated in the above graphic, 2012 showed a slight increase in the number of passports issued year-over-year, but was more than 6.5 million fewer issued than in the peak year of 2007, and a 40% increase from the low year of 2002.
Which States Have the Highest Percentage of Passports?
I decided to then plug all the data in and see which states have the highest and lowest percentage of the population with valid passports (this data may be viewed here). As can be viewed in the top graphic (red being the lowest, blue and grey being the highest), those states with the lowest percentages are clustered in the South and Midwest, and not surprisingly, those states on the border of Canada and Mexico, as well as those states with higher urban populations, had the highest.
Mississippi was the lowest, with just 18%, followed by West Virginia (19%), Arkansas (23%), Kentucky (23%) and Alabama (23%). The state with the highest percentage was New Jersey with 63%, followed by Massachusetts (59%), New York (58%), Alaska (58%) and Connecticut (56%).
An interesting correlation may be found when comparing the map of the results of the 2012 presidential elections (top) with my map of the states reflecting the percentage of passports holders (below). As can be seen, those states that voted for Romney in 2012 tended to be those states with the lowest number of passport holders, while those states that voted for Obama have the highest percentage of passport holders (a notable exception being Alaska — a state that given its location, it is no surprise that a majority of its residents have passports).
In fact, a look at the top 18 states with the highest percentage of passport holders (states where at least 45% of the population has passports), all of them voted for Obama in 2012 (the exception being Alaska). Alternately, the bottom 11 states all voted for Romney.
Of the bottom 25 states with the lowest percentage of passport holders, only 7 of those states went for Obama (28%). Of the top 25 states, only 6 voted for Romney (24%).
Below is a list of all 50 states and the percentage of each state’s population that has a valid passport.
Believe me, I’m the last person to defend anyone who doesn’t have a passport, but rather than listing out the reasons I think this is bad (which is essentially what I am trying to do every day on this site), I thought I’d take a look at some of the reasons behind this number.
One is cost. Given the average income and costs associated with raising kids for the average American, and given the costs of traveling abroad, even the cheapest trip abroad could essentially bankrupt a typical family (check out an example financial breakdown here).
No doubt Americans just don’t have the history and drive that, say, the British have for international travel. Simon Winchester in the 2009 edition of The Best American Travel Writing has this to say on that subject:
There was essentially no empire (the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and a scattering of Pacific islands excepted), and hence little by way of imperial legacy. The country is formidably isolated by thousands of miles of ocean from almost anywhere truly foreign, and getting abroad is very much more costly. Americans seldom went to seek their fortunes overseas, as British so often did . . . [and there] is little tradition of American exploration (aside from exploration-as-entertainment put on for the benefit of a number of some rather dubious but fashionable clubs and societies).
Maybe It’s Not That Bad
It’s also worth pointing out that although some places like the U.K. are just teeming with passports (71% of their population at last count), at least Americans aren’t as bad in this respect compared to, say, the Chinese, whose 20 million passport holders make up a measly 1.5% of the population. Also, Americans come respectfully in third place in the number of international departures, behind only Germany and the United Kingdom (of course this is a little skewed given population numbers).
By Matt Stabile
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheExpeditioner.com. You can read his writings, watch his travel videos, purchase the book he co-edited or contact him via email at any time at TheExpeditioner.com. (@TheExpeditioner)
Posted on January 22, 2013 by Matt Stabile