Is the U.S. Getting Older and Whiter, or Younger and More Diverse? Yes.

A brief statistical road trip across the swiftly changing, if not swiftly growing, country

615 immigration reuters protest.jpg

Reuters

The U.S. population grew slower in 2011 than any time in the last 70 years, capping the most lethargic decade of population growth since the 1930s. It's a testament to the combined effect of low-birthrates and halted immigration as the economy came to a standstill in 2007. These are incredible numbers, but the deeper look at our population growth's composition is just as fascinating and historic.

For the last few years, demographers and political analysts have predicted that the United States is moving inevitably toward a "majority-minority" future, where whites account for no more than half of the population. Analysis from the Brookings Institution explains why they're so sure about it. For the first time ever, half the children under the age of one are not white. Minorities accounted for 92 percent of population growth in the 2000s.

Minorities are driving growth and replenishing America's youth

The pie charts in the picture above appear the same size, but remember that the country grew more than 30 percent faster in the 1990s than in the 2000s. If population growth is the pie, then minorities are taking a larger slice of a shrinking pie.

But something else is going on: Whites aren't having as many children. And they're not getting any younger. "From one direction, racial diversity in the United States is growing, particularly among the young," Ron Brownstein wrote in "The Gray and the Brown," a National Journal cover story. "At the same time, the country is also aging, as the massive Baby Boom Generation moves into retirement [and] fully four-fifths of this rapidly expanding senior population is white." The brown and the gray are growing at the same time.

Have you noticed this trend where you live? It's very possible you haven't. Call it the Portland Exception. The Portland (ME) metro area is the whitest in the country, with only 6.5% of its population non-white. Metro neighbors Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Albany, and Worcester follow in the next 10 or 15. Across the country, Portland (OR) and Seattle are among the whitest cities in the country. Among the largest cities, only Pittsburgh has a higher share of whites.

The cities with the highest racial diversity, on the other hand, are all over the map. The top five includes Hartford, Conn., Detroit, and Honolulu. If you live somewhere like Arizona, where fewer than 40 percent of the children -- yet more than 80 percent of the seniors -- are white, the gray-brown thesis will resonate. If you live somewhere like Raleigh, where the under-45 population grew fast enough to double in 40 years but the metro area is hardly more diverse than Indianapolis, you'll find yourself in the rare position of being one of the fastest growing young cities, but in the bottom third of racial diversity.

And here's the final kicker: Wherever you happen to live, you're much more likely to stay there for a while. Residents moving "dropped to a postwar low of 11.9 percent in 2008, and then again to 11.6 percent in 2011," according to the Brookings report. There are a few reasons behind Stuck America, some obvious, some surprising. Obviously: there are fewer jobs to move for and it's harder to get credit buy a new home somewhere else. Less obviously: the rise of dual-earner households means that if one parent loses a job, the other won't automatically move because he/she will want to hold on to her paycheck.

The implications of a country becoming simultaneously older/whiter and younger/more diverse are hard to predict. Brownstein takes a few smart swings in his story. Whites tend to break for Republicans. Minorities tend to go for Democrats. If the short-term leans toward the GOP (the elderly are more likely to vote), the long-term seems to break for Democrats. Still, you could be forgiven for thinking policy debates are basically a game played by old white men on Capitol Hill to protect other senior citizens. Each year, a greater share of government spending goes toward income security programs for the elderly -- Medicare, Social Security, veterans benefits, and parts of Medicaid -- while the debate over immigration reform on Capitol Hill is stillborn. Demographics change slowly. Politics hardly moves any faster.

Bonus: Play demographer on your own time with this awesome interactive map with metro statistics from the Brookings Institution. Cool fact: The cities with the highest share of immigrants NOT in Texas, Florida or California? Chicago, Seattle and, um, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

>

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Business

Just In