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The Takeaway: Census Data Show Growing Racial Gap Between Young and Old

For the first time in U.S. Census Bureau history, white births are no longer a majority. In the year that ended last July, non-Hispanic whites accounted for just 49.6 percent of American births, while minorities-including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race-accounted for 50.4 percent. The demographic shift is playing out differently across the states; white births remain the majority in many areas. In others, however, there’s a growing gap between the ethnic and racial makeup of older and younger Americans.

The New York Times reports:

… the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country’s economy, its political life and its identity. “This is an important tipping point,” said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a “transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.”

Some of the largest racial/generational gaps are in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and California. The nonrural county with the largest gap is Yuma County, Ariz., where 73 percent of people over 65 are white, compared with just 18 percent of those under 20. In total, there are 348 American counties in which whites are no longer in the majority, four states and many major metropolitan areas.

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“A more diverse young population forms the basis of a generational divide with the country’s elderly, a group that is largely white and grew up in a world that was too,” the Times notes, and this could have diverse policy implications (especially when it comes to things like education and geriatric care).

The question is, how do we reimagine the social contract when the generations don’t look like one another?” said Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration studies at New York University.

Of the total births measured, about 26 percent were Hispanic, 15 percent black, and 4 percent Asian. Whites still represent the single largest share of all births, and are an overwhelming majority in the population as a whole (63.4 percent). But the median age for non-Hispanic whites is 42, the Times notes, meaning the bulk of white women are moving past prime childbearing years. The median age for Latinos is 27 years old.

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