The Point of No Return: A Majority Minority Future
By Hector Cordero-Guzman (May 25, 2012)
As the U.S. Census Bureau released estimates suggesting that, as of July 1, 2011, 50.4 percent of the US population younger than age 1 were "minorities," discussions about what the numbers mean and the implications quickly spread. My main surprise when the report came out was that anyone was surprised at all.
The Census had already revealed that in April 1, 2010, 49.5 of the US population younger than age 1 were "minorities" (defined as anyone who is not single-race white non-Hispanic) so this is not a new trend. But, the fact that the 50% threshold (majority-minority) was crossed for the first time in 2011 suggested to many that a demographic point of no return had been reached. And, this trend will continue.
The report also found that the population younger than age 5 was 49.7 percent minority in 2011, up from 49.0 percent in 2010. This means that in the next year or so, a majority of the US population younger than 5 years of age will be "minority" children.
There were 114 million "minorities" in 2011, or 36.6 percent of the U.S. population. Hispanics\Latinos are the most populous and fastest growing minority group in the US with 52 million persons in 2011. The Latino population grew by 3.1 percent since 2010. This increased the Hispanic\Latino share of the total population in the US from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 16.7 percent in 2011. African-Americans were the second largest minority group in the United States, at 43.9 million in 2011 (up 1.6 percent from 2010).
The growth of "minorities" in the US is mainly driven by increases in the Latino population. But, what drives Latino population growth?
First, Hispanics\Latinos have a younger population and age distribution when compared to non-Hispanic Whites. Close to 36% of non-Hispanic White women (or 36.3 million) were in the reproductive ages between 15 and 44 years old, while a much higher 47% of Latinas (or 11.8 million women) were in the 15 to 44 age group. Close to 6% of non-Hispanic White women were between the ages of 15-19 years old compared to 9% of total Latinas in that age group.
Second, Latinas are more likely to have children at younger ages and, third, they tend to have more children than non-Hispanic White women. The age-specific fertility rates for non-Hispanic Whites and Latinas are 23.5 for non-Hispanic Whites and 55.7 for Latinas ages 15-19; 74.9 for non-Hispanic Whites and 126.2 for Latinas ages 20-24; 105.8 for non-Hispanic Whites and 125.5 for Latinas ages 25-29; and 99.9 for non-Hispanic Whites and 96.7 for Latinas ages 30-34.
The highest reproductive ages for Latinas are between 20 to 24 years of age while for non-Hispanic Whites it is the 25 to 29 age group. Non-Hispanic White women ages 30 to 34 have a slightly higher fertility rate than Latinas (the only age group where Non-Hispanic Whites have a higher rate than Latinas). The end result of different age-specific fertility rates is that the total fertility rate for non-Hispanic White women was 58.7 while it was 80.3 for Latinas (and 66.6 for Non-Hispanic Blacks) and there are close to one million Latino births every year.
A younger age distribution, a higher proportion of women in reproductive ages, a tendency to have children at a younger age, and a higher fertility rate all mean that Hispanic population growth will continue at an accelerated pace independent of what happens with immigration.
In the last decade, for example, the Latino population grew by about 16.3 million persons with close to 9 million births and 7.3 million immigrants. In the current decade, the Latino population is expected to grow by 19 million persons with 11.3 million births and 7.7 million immigrants. By the decade around 2040s, the Latino population is expected to grow by 29.6 million persons or 19.3 million births and 10.3 million immigrants. In other words, even if we assume that immigration remains constant over the next 30 years, there will be close to 2 million Latinos added to the US population every year through births alone.
While Latino population growth is now driven mostly by births, immigration trends will have some impact on the future growth rate of the Latino population. Depending on the type of immigration assumptions made, the Latino population in the US by 2050 -- the year where a majority of the entire US population is anticipated to be "minority" -- is expected to be as much as 100 million, if we assume very little migration, close to 128 million under mid-level immigration assumptions, and as high as 159 million under high immigration assumptions.
The reality of a growing Latino population and of the fact that Latinos are an increasing proportion of the US population, should mean that more attention is paid to the population, possibly there will be some focus on issues that particularly impact Latinos, there may be a reduced sense of invisibility and, perhaps, an increased sense of power and relevance. But the fact that over time a majority of the US population will be made up of "minority groups" will not lead to positive changes in the lives of "minority communities" unless there is concerted action and a desire to change existing institutions.
The reality of a "majority-minority" world is already present in the lives of many urban youth and residents in many parts of the US. In fact, there were six majority-minority states or territories in 2011: Puerto Rico, Hawaii (77.1 percent minority), the District of Columbia (64.7 percent), California (60.3 percent), New Mexico (59.8 percent) and Texas (55.2 percent). No other state had a minority population greater than 46.4 percent of the total. And, over 11 percent (348) of the nation's 3,143 counties were majority-minority as of July 1, 2011.
In many of these majority-minority areas the economic and social problems of the Latino community not only continue but, in most cases, have existed for generations. The public school system in New York City, for example, is over 80% minority but the very existence of young men of color in the City is seen as a threat to "public safety" and questionable stop-and-frisk policies are justified as vital "crime prevention" strategies.
When we look at the leadership in Congress, other elected and appointed offices, the judiciary branch, universities, businesses, and the non-profit sector we do not see the demographic realities of the country well reflected and represented. Being a numeric minority creates significant challenges but becoming a numeric majority does not automatically solve them either. We need a concerted focus on education, access to training, improving employment opportunities, increasing wages, and building strong communities.
I hope the new population estimates released by the US Census Bureau can help bring increasing attention and a sense of urgency to the needs and challenges faced by the Latino community -- but, without policy change and concerted action, increases in numbers alone are not likely to lead to real, lasting, and positive social change.
The point of no return has been reached. There is no turning back. Demography is destiny. But the destiny has to be constructed and assembled. We can either build together and invest in an inclusive society or continue to head towards a more separated, segregated, unequal, and divided society where a minority continues to isolate itself from a growing majority of "minorities."
Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology from The University of Chicago and is a Professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College of the City University of New York. He is also a Professor in the Ph.D. Programs in Sociology and in Urban Education at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School and University Center. Prior to joining The School of Public Affairs at CUNY, Dr. Cordero-Guzman was a Program Officer in the Economic Development and the Quality Employment Units of the Asset Building and Community Development Program at The Ford Foundation. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.