We’ve been hearing about it for years, and now the time has come. In May, the Census Bureau announced that for the first time, the birth rate of people of color exceeded that of whites: 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent.
The United States of America is still a majority white country, with whites comprising 63.4 percent of the total population. But the Census Bureau report covering the 12-month period that ended last July reveals that at a time when the white birth rate is declining, there are now 114 million people of color in the United States, or 36.6 percent of the population. Latinos, now America’s largest minority group, led the way last year with 26 percent of total births. The African-American percentage was about 15 percent, and for Asians it was about 4 percent.
The country now has four majority-minority states: Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and Texas. Non-whites outnumber whites in the District of Columbia too. By 2042, experts predict that the United States will become a majority-minority nation.
“This is an important tipping point,” said William Frey, a senior demographer at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. We’re seeing “a transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multi-ethnic country that we are becoming.”
This increase in the minority population is due partly to the influx of Latino immigrants in recent decades. It also reflects the fact that with a median age of 42, the white population is aging while younger minorities, especially Latinos, are moving into their peak child-bearing years.
With African Americans and Latinos still over-represented among the unemployed and high school dropouts, this demographic shift should be a wake-up call to policymakers and employers. The nation can’t move forward if it continues to leave communities of color behind. We won’t be able to grow our economy or compete in the 21st-century global marketplace if we continue to squander so much of our young human capital.
Even as job creation continues to pick up, the unemployment rate for African Americans has exceeded 10 percent since 2008. It now stands at 13 percent. The rate for Latinos also outpaces the national average at 10.3 percent. The high school dropout rate is also highest in these communities. It’s ironic that the Census Bureau released this historic data on May 17, exactly 58 years after Thurgood Marshall won the landmark Supreme Court ruling that decreed an end to “separate but equal” segregation in our nation’s schools.
While the hope was that Brown v. Board of Education would lead to better schools and a better education for all our children, America’s public schools are more segregated today than ever. And schools serving African-American and Latino students remain unequal in terms of resources, funding, and quality teachers.
Recent political attacks on affirmative action, immigration, and voting rights also make it clear that while African Americans and Latinos are growing in numbers, our fight for civil rights and equality is far from over. It’s time to put these old divisions behind us. The future is fast approaching. And its color will look a lot different from the shades of the past.