Updated at 1:14 p.m. ET
Like many of President Trump’s policies, the White House’s recent embrace of a plan to cut legal immigration in half rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic relationship between “the brown and the gray.”
That’s the phrase I’ve applied to America’s increasingly diverse younger generations and its predominantly white older population. Today, kids of color represent nearly half of Americans 19 years old and younger and exactly half of the under-10 population. As Brookings Institution demographer William Frey recently calculated from Census data, the absolute number of white kids under 15 (not just the share) declined in 41 of the 50 states from 2010 to 2016—while the number of minority kids increased in 46 states.
Whites, meanwhile, compose almost four-fifths of all Americans age 65 and older and over two-thirds of the population age 45 to 64. Put another way, while nearly half of all whites today are 45 or older, nearly half of all non-whites are 30 or younger.
On many fronts, Trump effectively treats these two groups as competitors in a zero-sum struggle—and then looks to advantage the gray. That instinct is evident, for instance, in the president’s determination to slash spending on federal programs that invest in the productivity of (heavily diverse) future generations, such as education and scientific research, while cutting taxes for the (mostly white) families in the top income brackets and protecting entitlements for the (mostly white) elderly. It resurfaces in the Justice Department’s opposition to affirmative-action programs in higher education. And it pulses through his push to tightly squeeze the future flow of legal immigrants.