In 2045, the United States will become “minority white” for the first time in its history, according to census projections. Several states already have reached this milestone in which non-Latino whites make up less than half the population.
This major demographic shift is being driven not by current immigration, but by U.S. births involving racial and ethnic minorities. Strong immigration numbers during the 1980s from Latin America and Asia obviously have played a role, but a “minority white” U.S. seems inevitable even if the influx from those regions is sharply curtailed.
By the mid-21st century, according to U.S. Census Bureau population projections, whites will comprise 49.9% of the population, Latinos will be 24.6%, blacks 13.1%, Asians 7.8% and 3.8 % will be multiracial.
These numbers are scary to some Americans, recent polls and political movements make clear. A 2015 poll by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that attitudes about immigrants strongly vary by age group. Older white Americans are less likely than younger generations to think immigrants strengthen the country, and are more likely to believe the national culture and values are worse today than in the 1950s.
Recent polling by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans are unaware that most immigrants are in the country legally.
And yet, demographers and other experts say a younger, more diverse population will benefit the economic prosperity of white older Americans, who will remain a growing share of the population for years to come as more baby boomers reach retirement age.
Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution says in a research paper published in March 2018: “New census population projections confirm the importance of racial minorities as the primary demographic engine of the nation´s future growth, countering an aging, slow-growing and soon to be declining white population.” His point is that groups that are growing will also provide a larger share of the consumers, labor force and tax base that support the economy.
Even as debates on immigration and demographic changes rage in the public arena, the youthful minority population’s higher birth rates are already doing the nation a service, says Frey, “keeping it from aging even faster than would otherwise be the case.”
In comparison, countries like Japan and Italy with lower immigration levels than the United States have a declining labor force and extreme aging. These trends result in not enough workers to fill jobs and pay into public pensions.
In the United States, Frey asserts, “the more rapidly growing, largely white senior population will be increasingly dependent” on the contributions of minorities to the economy and to Medicare and Social Security.”
Already, whites are dying faster than their birth rates in the U.S. and minorities have a higher birth rate that replenishes the loss of working-age population. Therefore, the nation’s future will depend on the minority communities that will help make up the workforce and be a growing voting population.