Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Is the Hardening of Ethnoracial Inequalities Inevitable?

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Is the Hardening of Ethnoracial Inequalities Inevitable?

Article excerpt

Between now and 2044, the US Census projects that the non-Hispanic white share of the US population will fall from 62.2 percent to just under 50 percent. That is, in less than 30 years, the numerical dominance of America's Anglo population will come to an end. One could argue that America's majority-minority future is already with us. In majority-minority states such as California and Texas and in our public schools, Hispanic and Asian populations have grown dramatically in recent decades. The population of Americans under the age of five is now majority-minority and the same will be true of the population of Americans under the age of 18 by 2020.

What might this new majority-minority America look like? How will rapid demographic change shape America's social, economic, and political institutions? These are the questions raised by the findings of the States of Change project, which has painstakingly modeled this demographic transformation as it might unfold across the United States from now until 2060. The first States of Change report identifies and illuminates several trends, including the rapid aging of the population, the growth of nonwhite populations through natural increase and immigration, rising educational attainment, and shifts in family structure.

Until recently, the pace of America's demographic transformation has been masked by the outsized influence of the baby-boom generation. As of 2015, however, Americans born between 1981 and 2000--the so-called "millennial" generation--outnumber baby boomers among the voting-eligible population. As the boomers age and fade from the scene, a younger, more nonwhite generation is asserting itself.

The central question is not whether America will become a majority-minority society. As the States of Change report illustrates, that much is inevitable. Even if all immigration were to end tomorrow, America's younger majority-minority generations would continue to steadily replace its older majority-white generations.

What has yet to be determined is whether the America of the future will be peaceful and cohesive, or whether it will be wracked by ethnic and class conflict, like so many other societies that have failed to forge a strong sense of national identity out of clashing tribalisms. Might integration and intermarriage increase to such an extent that distinctions among various ethno-cultural groups will blur and fade into insignificance?(1) Or might some minority groups find themselves concentrated at the bottom of America's social hierarchy and stigmatized and marginalized as a result? As the pace of demographic change accelerates, as upward mobility from the bottom of the income distribution remains stagnant, and as the cultural and political consensus around what a shared American national identity ought to look like threatens to break down, the ability of America's institutions to successfully accommodate the country's growing ethnic diversity is in question.

Over the coming decades, policymakers will have to address the challenges and opportunities presented by rising diversity. As the share of older Americans rises, and as the share of younger Americans raised in disrupted families and by less-skilled immigrants rises as well, the social contract that undergirds American life will have to adapt. But changing entrenched institutions that benefit powerful constituencies is always difficult, even in the best of times. Reforming America's sclerotic health and education sectors and its safety net programs will require achieving a broad consensus, which is hard to imagine in our intensely polarized political climate.

What follows is a sketch of how America's changing demography might shape ethnoracial inequalities going forward, with a particular focus on immigration and the second generation's coming of age. The emerging majority-minority America will need a new social contract, a reality which political forces on the left and the right have only begun to confront. …

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