Are You Ready for the New 'America the Beautiful'?

Coke and Cheerios Super Bowl ads nail our country's changing demographics, and hint at policies that can ease student debt and help seniors.

Whoever thought "America the Beautiful" and Cheerios could be so controversial?

While a puppy and a horse won the hearts of Super Bowl viewers, a growing biracial family explained through Cheerios and a familiar song sung in various languages ignited a conversation.

Donna Butts is executive director of Generations United, a Washington-based membership organization of more than 100 groups that seek to improve the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies. (Courtesy photo)Wake up and smell the demographics. America, are you open?

To try to find out, Generations United and the Generations Initiative commissioned a survey, engaged thought leaders and emerging experts, and together in December released the report "Out of Many One: Uniting the Changing Faces of America."

Our public-opinion survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that Americans as a whole are aware of the changing age and race demographics in the U.S., and they are generally accepting of them. In fact 66 percent agree they are optimistic about the opportunities presented by the changing makeup of our communities.

While younger respondents were more likely to see the changes as positive compared with older respondents, the vast majority across generations and races reported they were positive or at least neutral about the changes. This suggests an environment which is open and ripe for policies to foster connections across age and race.

Our survey findings would help explain why the Twitter explosion that erupted around Coke's "America the Beautiful" commercial was so heated.

There were some pretty petty tweets, but even more praised the sentiment the singers conveyed and the risk the company took. Many people said they were moved by the faces and scenarios, all of which touch on our country's powerful founding narrative: E pluribus unum — "Out of many, one."

Throughout our history, our coming together as one America across race, age, and other differences has made our nation stronger. The changes we face today push this narrative like never before. The question is, are you open?

What's changed?

First, we're living longer and healthier. By 2043, one in five U.S. residents will be 65 or older. What a wonderful wealth of untapped human capital asset, an asset we can and should engage beginning today.

Second, we're more racially and ethnically diverse. By 2042 more than half of the nation will be people of color.

Taken together, there is a growing race and age gap. Today more than half of Americans under 5 are people of color, compared with less than one in five Americans older than 65.

Unlike other countries, we are age-advantaged. Our young population will continue to grow for decades to come. We must, however, be sure to make the proper investments so our young people have healthy beginnings and flourish academically.

In our report, we challenged the experts to use an intergenerational lens, one that values all ages, and take a fresh look at issues facing our country. Could they come up with disruptive ideas that might unite generations and strengthen our communities? The results were thought-provoking.

For example, take aging-in-place and the student-debt crisis.

Most people want to age in the same communities where they currently reside. It's healthier and a more cost-effective way to support older adults who can live independently with some assistance.

At the same time, young people are burdened by huge student debt that threatens to inhibit them for years to come.

Our recommendation? Encourage "home share" agreements that reduce student loans in exchange for students taking on tasks that enable older adults to age in place.

When the diverse voices of our people were raised together in a commercial, "America the Beautiful" was pitch-perfect. In any language it's a moving song, a testament to the incredible strength of our country. A country made stronger by its diverse people. Are you open?

The Next America welcomes op-ed pieces that explore the political, economic, and social impacts of the profound racial and cultural changes facing our nation. Email us.