I recently came across an article from the Brookings Institutions predicting that the US will become a majority people-of-color nation by 2045, pushing forward the predicted date by a few years. At that point, white non-Hispanic Americans will, for the first time in history, comprise a minority of the population.
Of particular interest in a follow-up article is that the white population, for only the second year ever, actually saw absolute declines in the total population. The reason is because the fertility rate among non-Hispanic whites is far below the fertility rate of other racial/ethnic groups. It also reinforces a point I’ve heard multiple times over the years: We could stop immigration entirely today, and the nation is still going to be minority-white by mid-century.
Of course, Springfield and Holyoke – the largest and third largest cities in Hampden County – are already majority people of color. This is largely thanks to the substantial migration of Puerto Ricans which (I have been told) started in the 1970s as a result, surprisingly, of the tobacco farms in the Connecticut River Valley. And in the wake of Hurricane Maria, this migration from Puerto Rico is only going to pick up. You can see in the below map that Hampden County was the landing pad for even more weather refugees than Philadelphia.
The Politics of Change
I can’t help but think about an episode of This American Life (Will I Know Anyone at This Party?). It was about residents of St. Cloud, a Minnesota town which has seen a surge of immigrants from Somalia moving into the community. Even though the total Somalian population was only about 10% of the total population, long-time residents were outraged at the immigrants settling there (many people referred to their presence as a “burden” on the community). They wanted the federal government to block any more immigrants from coming to their community.
The sense that I got was that so many of the residents were terrified of the fact that these Somalians represented a clear change to their community. It wasn’t anything specific that the Somalians did or any specific negative impacts. It was just that they were so… foreigh. They were Muslim, they spoke with accents, and of course they were black. Conservatives in St. Cloud especially started voicing the same nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that ultimately got Donald Trump elected and has recently been the main fodder for the Republican Party. And this was with only 10% of the population being non-white!
And so I am pondering this unstoppable demographic shift of America becoming a majority non-white country. What will it mean for our politics? What will it mean for the younger generations, which are already majority non-white? Will our idea of what it means to be “white” change (after all, the Irish didn’t used to be considered white)? Or will it ossify into an even more tribal winner-take-all voting bloc?
Minorities will be the source of all of the growth in the nation’s youth and working age population, most of the growth in its voters, and much of the growth in its consumers and tax base as far into the future as we can see. Hence, the more rapidly growing, largely white senior population will be increasingly dependent on their contributions to the economy and to government programs such as Medicare and Social Security. This suggests the necessity for continued investments in the nation’s diverse youth and young adults as the population continues to age.
I just hope that we as Americans have the good sense to recognize that the only colors that matter when it comes to voting priorities are red, white, and blue; that the nation’s young people are our future, no matter what country their parents came from; that America is built on diversity of thought, of culture, and of its people. I don’t have much reason to hope that this will come true given current politics, except that the future prosperity of the country depends on it.