Deaths exceeded births among non-Hispanic white Americans for the first time in at least a century, according to new census date, a benchmark that heralds profound demographic change.
The disparity was tiny–only about 12,000–and was more than made up by a gain of 188,000 as a result of immigration from abroad. But the decrease for the year ending July 1, 2012, coupled with the fact that a majority of births in the United States are now to Hispanic, black and Asian mothers, is further evidence that white Americans will become a minority nationwide within about three decades.
Overall the number of non-Hispanic white Americans is expected to begin declining by the end of this decade.
Well that is pretty dramatic, isn’t it? But isn’t it old news? I mean, it should come to no surprise that the Census Bureau predicts changes in the racial makeup of the country, after all they predict that whites will only be 43% of the population in 2060. As Ruy Teixiera noted at ThinkProgress, currently only four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas) and the District of Columbia are majority-minority. Teixiera notes that before 2020 we can expect Nevada (46% minority in 2010), Maryland (45%), Georgia (44%) and possibly Florida (42%) to pass that threshold. In the 2020’s, Arizona, New Jersey and possibly Delaware and New York should follow suit. And by 2050, we may also see majority-minority populations in Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and possibly Alaska.
It turns out that Roberts was responding to a new study, which linked demographic changes to the economic difficulties of the past few years:
Nationally, said Kenneth M. Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute, a research center based at the University of New Hampshire, “the onset of natural decrease between 2011 and 2012 was not anticipated.” He attributed the precipitous shift in part to the recession, adding that “the growing number of older non-Hispanic whites, which will accelerate rapidly as the baby boom ages, guarantees that non-Hispanic white natural decrease will be a significant part of the nation’s demographic future.”
According to the article, Johnson noted that in 2006 (before the recession), self-identified “whites” had 320,000 more births than deaths, as opposed to 2011, when the number was 29,000. Apparently the white population was even less fecund last year, resulting in the previously noted surplus of 12,000 deaths. Perhaps it was this rapid drop-off that led a think-tank panjandrum to react with what seemed to be alarm:
“These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.
The transition will mean that “today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being,” Dr. Frey said. In fact, the situation may be reversed. “It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth,” he said.
Several graphs from the 140 page Pew Report are quite thought provoking. The chart at right is proof that things have been getting worse for poorer people for decades. While the immediate post-WWII decades saw consistent improvement for everyone, including the lower income quintiles (due to the strength of labor unions and commitment to collective bargaining by manufacturers who relied on domestic employees), the last three decades has seen a massive redistribution, leading to a situation where, as Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) observes:
Today, the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America – 150 million people. Today, the six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune own more wealth than the bottom 30 percent.Today, the top one percent own 40 percent of all wealth, while the bottom sixty percent owns less than 2 percent. Incredibly, the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just 3/10ths of one percent of the wealth of the country.
In light of these figures, it is amazing that anyone has hope for the future, but the Pew Report indicates that it is the young, racial minorities, and the least educated who have the most faith that their children will experience higher living standards. If nothing else, this is an inspiring demonstration of the staying power of the American Dream. Especially in light of another story in this week’s Times (“Discrimination in Housing Against Nonwhites Persists Quietly, U.S. Study Finds“). According to Shaila Dewan, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development recently carried out a survey with disappointing results:
“Although we’ve come a long way from the days of blatant, in your face housing injustice, discrimination still persists,”Shaun Donovan, the department’s secretary, said in a telephone conference on Tuesday. “And just because it has taken on a hidden form doesn’t make it any less harmful.
In each of the study’s 8,000 tests, one white and one minority tester of the same gender and age, posing as equally well-qualified renters or buyers, visited the same housing provider or agent. In more than half the test cases, both testers were shown the same number of apartments or homes. But in cases where one tester was shown more homes or apartments, the white tester was usually favored, leading to a higher number of units shown to whites overall.
Overall, black prospective renters were presented 11% fewer rentals than whites, Hispanics about 12% fewer and Asians 15% fewer. As prospective buyers, blacks were presented with 17% fewer homes and Asians 15% fewer, but Hispanics saw roughly the same number as whites. White testers also were more frequently offered lower rents, told that deposits and other move-in costs were negotiable, or were quoted a lower price.
The article notes that “even subtle discrimination like steering minorities to certain neighborhoods or failing to offer them the homes most likely to increase in value would result in substantially weaker accumulation of wealth.” It is pretty clear from the table at right that minority groups have been among the “biggest losers” economically this century. While it would be tempting to assume that when their numbers grow (by 2060, when today’s minorities will collectively make up 57% of the population, up from 37% today) their incomes will also increase, it is not clear to me that this is so.
After all, why should we have faith that the economic mobility trends of the past three decades will suddenly reverse themselves? And if today’s racial minorities stay relatively poorer than whites, how will they be able to afford college? Higher education costs have consistently risen over time, far outstripping the Consumer Price Index. To be able to afford college (and graduate and professional schools), Americans have borrowed ever increasing amounts of money: over $1 trillion so far.
If upward economic mobility is limited, and if job options for college graduates are ephemeral, leading to ever more over-educated minimum wage earners, how will tomorrow’s young people be able to pay off their loans? And what rational person will decide that it makes economic sense to take out such loans? My wife and I have three graduate degrees among us (which is another way of saying that she has two), and 21 years after finishing our undergraduate diplomas (10 years since earning the last graduate degree) we still have 16 years to go until our student loans are fully paid off. While our degrees provide the main qualifications for our jobs, and no one can repossess our educations, I am not sure that the 18-year old version of me would have signed off on spending the next four decades in debt, especially debt that is very hard to discharge without full payment.
So what have we learned? The segments of the population that should grow the fastest in the next four decades consists of those who are currently the poorest, and who face many obstacles to economic improvement. On the other hand, they are the most likely to be optimistic about the future of the country and of their children. We’ve also learned that America’s future prosperity will depend on this emerging majority, even though it is possible that higher education may be too expensive for them to continue expanding their share of the college population.
As I was preparing this post, Twitter blew up with accounts of a speech by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R). Bush, the son and brother of former Presidents (and the husband of an immigrant from Mexico) is often touted as a future candidate for the nation’s highest office. Earlier today, while delivering a speech in favor of immigration reform, Bush was quoted as saying:
“Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans. Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity.”
While he seems to be on the same page as William Frey, it is pretty clear that he misspoke when using the word “fertile”. But Jeb Bush’s larger point is impossible to argue against:
“If we don’t do it [reform immigration policies], we will be in decline, because the productivity of this country is dependent upon young people that are equipped to be able to work hard.”
Trends are clear that the “young people” of America’s near future are much more likely to be Hispanic, Black or Asian. And it is reasonable to think that they will have to work hard to survive (and to help support their elders–after all, I will be 90 years old in 2060!). But will they be willing and able to pay the costs necessary to achieve the higher education that today’s students struggle to afford? Time will tell…