The 2010 U.S. Census estimated that by the year 2050, if not sooner, the United States will not have an ethnic majority. On October 18 a Center for American Progress event launched an exciting new project called Progress 2050, which will develop policies related to these demographic changes and further a more inclusive, progressive agenda in response to them.
In her opening remarks, CAP Vice President for New American Communities Initiatives Daniella Gibbs Léger said that this absence of a racial or ethnic majority could, according to some projections, appear by 2042.
“In 2050,” she said, “our country will look a lot different than it does now. It will be much younger, and it will be much more diverse.”
Progress 2050 is important, she said, “because communities of color will make up the future workforce of this country, and we need to ensure that they have the tools and access they need to prosper. Because it’s not just that communities of color will be increasingly important to the progressive movement, it’s that there would be no progressive movement without people of color.”
William Frey, senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, then gave a presentation illustrating the current demographic changes within the United States. He discussed the nation’s new and multicultural youth—primarily Latin American and Asian immigrants and their children—the aging, white baby boomers, and what he called a “cultural generation gap.”
He said that “as the younger part of the population, children, young adults, become more diverse, interested in their future, interested in affordable housing, interested in good education, maybe their interests will tend to collide with the older population, which we see, even in the year 2030, will be primarily white.”
The gap has to be addressed by policymakers at all levels, Frey said, “because a lot of times we see that the older, largely white population feels disconnected with the younger population.” The older generation needs to learn that this new multicultural generation is the future and potential of the country.
A panel discussion followed Frey’s presentation. Moderated by Vanessa Cárdenas, Director of Progress 2050, the panel included Frey, as well as Orson Aguilar, executive director of the Greenlining Institute; Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink; and Dowell Myers, professor of planning and development in the School of Policy at the University of Southern California.
Speaking on the significance of the recent demographic statistics, Glover Blackwell said, “They matter because they’re telling us about our present and our future, and we would be foolish not to pay close attention. They’re telling us that we’re in for a change, and that we need to prepare for the implications of that change.”
Asked about the possibility of an intergenerational fight over resources, with a growing aging population that is going to depend on the young, Myers talked about his experience in California, saying that “the future has already arrived, and we still don’t get it.” But the panel agreed that investing in our increasingly diverse youth, even if some are reluctant to do so, will ensure the success of the country.
Myers stressed the importance of thinking ahead for today’s youth. “The more educated a child becomes, the more money they earn, and the more taxes they give us back. That’s how it works. The trouble is, in America we don’t want to think ahead.”
Glover Blackwell discussed the continuing racism in the United States—the perpetuation of what she called the “black/white paradigm.” Today’s immigrants, whether black or not, are being viewed through this paradigm. They are now on the receiving end of racist feelings that the United States has never addressed, and this is leading to a “generational divide.”
She said that “failure to invest in public education, in public transportation, in vibrant communities, it hurts everybody who is young, so that people who are white and wanting to use public schools, white and wanting to use public transportation, white and wanting to move into urban areas, find an unwelcoming environment because we haven’t dealt with our racial problems.”
Aguilar said that the fight for “racial justice and racial equity” has to come first before we can make policy changes. He said that policies using the “color-blind approach” are not the most effective. Policies that acknowledge race and are “race specific” better serve immigrants. He said these policies need dedicated leaders and that they need to be incorporated into broader infrastructure and job policies.
With Progress 2050 CAP hopes to inspire progressive policy and to educate Americans about the changing face of our nation. As all of the panelists agreed, the coming demographic change should be seen as the opportunity and gift that it really is—one that has the power to ensure our country’s economic growth and success.
Download William H. Frey’s presentation, “America’s Changing Racial Diversity” (pdf)