Diversity Is America’s Future by William H. Frey, The Brookings Institution
The latest Census population projections indicate that, as a nation, we are both aging and becoming more diverse. Yet underlying these shifts is a crucial generational dimension that should shape our plans for the future.
The “aging” of the population is being driven largely by the mostly white postwar Baby Boom generation, which will swell the ranks of seniors over the next two decades—by some 67 percent—taking a huge bite out of our working-age population and increasing demands on Social Security and Medicare.
America’s “diversity” is bubbling up from the younger ages in ways that are already apparent in playgrounds and schools. A result of recent immigration waves and fertility, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, have joined blacks, American Indians and other minorities in beefing up the growth of our child and younger populations.
The importance of racial and ethnic minority growth cannot be overstated. Between 2000 and 2010 minorities accounted for all of the growth in the nation’s child population, as there were declines in white children under age 18 in 46 states. In Texas, the state that gained the most children during the decade, Hispanics contributed 95 percent to that gain.
Looking ahead, the Census projections show that the nation’s child population will be “minority majority” in 2018. And between now and 2030, minorities will account for all of the gains in the labor-force population, which will lose more than 14 million whites due to the aging out of Baby Boomers.
The good news is that the growth of today’s youthful minorities is occurring at just the right time to counter an extensive aging of the country. Without this infusion, we could be staring at absolute declines in our labor force, and the extremely high age dependency rates faced by Japan and several European countries. In other words, recent immigration and the growth of racial and ethnic minorities provided a demographic windfall that can help us pave the way for prosperity in the 21st century.
Yet in order to take advantage of this, we need to make much greater strides in providing opportunities for these younger minorities, and successive generations, to enter the economic mainstream at a time when many of their families are on the wrong side of inequality. It means greater investment at all levels of government in preschool though postsecondary education, and greater support for local community health and social services. And in our discussion of immigration policy, we should extend the focus to the needs of second- and third-generation American youth to better provide them with a pathway to the middle class.
The old saying “demography is destiny” is especially relevant at what is truly a critical juncture in our nation’s life. We have an opportunity to make positive change. The question is: Will we take it?
Posted August 7th, 2013
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