Whites' clear majority to fade by '50

Minorities to constitute nearly half of population in U.S. at mid-century

March 18, 2004|By R. Alonso-Zaldivar | R. Alonso-Zaldivar,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The numbers of Hispanics and Asians in the United States will triple over the next half-century as an aging white population slips from its traditional majority perch, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections released today.

The estimates through 2050 show that during the current decade, the United States will, for the first time, reach the demographic milestone of more than 100 million minority residents. By 2010, minorities will number more than 110 million out of a total population of 309 million.

"You really see a snapshot here of the old America and the new America at the same time," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a centrist research and policy center in Washington. "One America will be white, middle-class and graying, and then you'll have this new kind of globalized America coming to the fore" - a "racial generation gap," he called it.

The broad direction of America's demographic evolution has been roughly mapped, but the new figures are based on the most recent data, factoring in the results of the 2000 Census. The head count showed both a sharp increase and a geographic dispersal of the Hispanic and Asian populations.

According to the national figures released today, the total U.S. population will rise to about 420 million in 2050, a 49 percent increase from 2000. As the baby boom generation - those born between 1946 and 1964 - begins to die, the population will grow much more slowly. After 2030, the rate of increase might be the slowest since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The number of Hispanics is projected to grow to 103 million by 2050. That represents a nearly threefold increase from 36 million in 2000. The number of Asians is projected to rise to 33 million, from 11 million in 2000.

The number of non-Hispanic whites, who now account for about 70 percent of the U.S. population, is projected to drop to barely more than 50 percent in 2050. The share of blacks in the population is projected to increase slightly to 15 percent, compared with almost 13 percent now. Whites are likely to cease being a majority around the mid-2050s.

The changes will bring potential benefits and pitfalls, according to experts who track such developments. On the positive side, continued immigration will help keep the United States growing during years when Europe and Japan are expected to lose population. More working-age taxpayers might shore up the sagging bottom line of programs for the elderly, such as Medicare and Social Security.

"It's going to be immigrant labor supporting the aging white population," said Edward Telles, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Immigrants also provide links to foreign economies. "Immigration is keeping us younger and is increasing our diversity," said Elizabeth Grieco, a demographer with the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.

On the negative side, an ethnic edge to the generational equity debate could make it more difficult to balance the rights of the elderly to a secure retirement and the obligations of younger workers.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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