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About 2.4 million, or 0.9 percent, more people will be on hand to ring in the New Year in the United States than there were a year ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau projected the population at 268,921,733 on Jan. 1, 1998, based on its estimates of 3.9 million births, 2.3 million deaths, 827,000 entries of immigrants and the net return of 40,600 American citizens from abroad during 1997.

"The level of births occurring in the United States each year has been declining since 1990, when 4.2 million births occurred," Census Bureau analyst Lisa Kuzmeskus said in a statement. "The number of deaths in 1997 were slightly higher than the number in 1996."

The headcounters said America's population is projected to grow by an additional 2.3 million in 1998.

The New Year's day population total is an 8.1 percent increase over the April 1, 1990, census total of 248,765,170.

The projections do not include U.S. citizens -- armed forces or civilian -- who live abroad.

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