Americans this holiday weekend will gather around family dinner tables across the country to give thanks—thanks for family, food, health, and whatever else they hold dear. As the country changes and rapidly becomes more diverse, we can also be thankful that the immigrant experience that launched our grand and sometimes painful experiment in freedom and democracy over the past several centuries lives on today.
Today’s immigrant experience further bolsters our nation’s diverse racial and ethnic heritage and prepares our country for yet another century of prosperity and cultural flowering. Here are 10 reasons why Americans can be thankful for our rich diversity.
10. We’ll actually still have a growing workforce in 2050. Unlike the shrinking labor forces of Japan and much of East and Southeast Asia and Western Europe, the labor force in the United States will continue to grow, largely due to immigration and the children of immigrants. Between 2000 and 2050 new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population.
A recent report demonstrates that immigrants are following the path of their predecessors and assimilating just as rapidly today as they did in the past. Immigrants are also driving small business creation across the country—in fact, immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business than a nonimmigrant.
9. Diversity puts the Turkey in Turkey Day. The United States owes its food culture to the amalgamation of different communities’ tastes and traditions. Can’t wait for the big bird this Thursday? You can thank Native Americans for introducing this staple in their diet to the pilgrims in the 17th century. If it weren’t for the constant food innovation from diverse communities that developed our national tastes, we’d still be eating boiled cabbage, with ketchup as our favorite condiment.
8. We can roll green, thanks to public transit. Even if economics was the driver, communities of color embraced green transportation way before hipsters made it cool. African Americans are almost six times more likely to ride mass transit than whites, while Hispanics are three times more likely to use transit to get around. In urban areas, African Americans and Latinos comprise over 54 percent of transit users—62 percent of bus riders, 35 percent of subway riders, and 29 percent of commuter rail riders.
7. Try to play a piano without the black keys. Black musical creativity fueled much of the modern music industry in the United States. African Americans have created and driven various musical genres, including gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, funk, hip hop, and others, yet the shortage of African American executives belies a significant disconnect between the industry’s management hierarchy and its artistic composition and influence. Even Justin Beiber names Usher, Michael Jackson, and Boyz II Men among his greatest role models.
6. Diversity encourages students to “experiment” in college. In his controlling opinion in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, Justice Lewis F. Powell noted that a diverse student body promotes an atmosphere of “speculation, experiment and creation” that is “essential to the quality of higher education.” Empirical studies also show that socializing across racial and ethnic lines is associated with widespread beneficial effects on a student’s academic as well as personal development, irrespective of race.
5. Diversity results in better solutions to problems. When confronting a problem, people’s perspectives are accompanied by ways of searching for solutions—something scientists call heuristics. In plain English, this means people have diverse approaches to solutions. Studies show that the diversity of approaches on any given team outperforms the overall ability or talent of the team’s members. In other words, diversity results in better solutions. In an increasingly competitive global economy, diversity is good business.
4. United we stand. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court in 2003 upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action admissions policy after hearing from a group of former high-ranking officers and civilian leaders of the U.S. military. The military leaders asserted that “[b]ased on [their] decades of experience… [a] highly qualified, racially diverse officer corps … is essential to the military’s ability to fulfill its principle mission to provide national security.” They also submitted an amicus brief arguing that "full integration and other policies combating discrimination are essential to good order, combat readiness, and military effectiveness.” In other words, diversity equals “United we stand.”
3. Still trying to sell that home? As the ratio of seniors to working-age residents rapidly increases, the boomers who try to sell their homes after retirement are going to increasingly rely on the growing youth population to come to their rescue. By 2019, the majority of the nation’s youth will be youth of color, which means their educational and workforce preparation will be crucial to avoiding economic stagnation.
2. Play ball! Looking forward to the big match up between brothers Jim and John Harbaugh when their teams the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens meet on Thanksgiving? In 2010, we were thankful for 70 percent players of color in the National Football League. And at the beginning of the 2011 season, the National Basketball Association reported 83 percent players of color, Major League Soccer reported 48 percent players of color, and Major League Baseball reported 38 percent players of color.
1. The promise of First Amendment protections for all. The United States was founded on ideals of diversity, from the principle of religious freedom to the marketplace-of-ideas metaphor that are enshrined in our Constitution’s First Amendment. Though we have, at times, struggled with ensuring these freedoms in practice, the First Amendment’s protections are based on the fundamental premise that we as a nation are only as strong as all of our parts.
Julie Ajinkya is a Policy Analyst for Project 2050 at the Center for American Progress.