By Ann McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
WASHINGTON — We are not the same people we were, and the cultural and political ramifications are huge.
According to the Census Bureau, that collector of all things interesting about us, the November election that gave President Barack Obama a second term largely because he got 78 percent of the non-white vote was a precursor of things to come.
In 30 years, whites will no longer be a majority of the population. The population now is 315 million; in 38 years, there will be 400 million of us, but only 43 percent will be white compared with 63 percent today. In 1960, whites constituted 85 percent of U.S. residents.
Actually, population growth has slowed considerably; a few years ago, the Census Bureau said we would reach 400 million 12 years earlier than the demographers predict now. Not surprisingly, it’s not just because of fertility rates; we are an aging population. By 2056, Americans over 65 will outnumber children under 18 for the first time in U.S. history.
This means fewer working adults will pay those pesky Social Security and Medicare taxes. Also, Americans 85 and older will triple to 18.2 million, making up 4 percent of the entire population.
(Hint, hint, entrepreneurs: Services and goods for the elderly will be in greater demand than ever.)
It’s now easier to see why neither Capitol Hill Republicans nor White House officials want to make the first move toward outlining specific details on how to limit Social Security and Medicare benefits.
By 2060, Hispanic Americans will account for almost one of every three people living in the United States. Watch for this trend to have a major impact on language, food, music, education and values before the amazing American assimilation machine does its magic.
The demographic shift probably is the single largest reason Mitt Romney lost the election. He won white votes by a 20 percent margin, but unlike in previous elections, that was no longer enough to win the White House.
Romney’s hapless struggles to find a message that resonated with Hispanics emphasized how out of step the Republican Party has become with the changing demographics of the country. Here’s betting that we will see a far different election fight in 2016 unless Republicans decide to completely self-destruct.
As children of immigrants become the fastest-growing demographic, the pressure on educators and politicians who fund education will be enormous. We must do a better job of making certain those children have the skills to compete in a world in which U.S. academic achievement is slipping dramatically.
(Hint, hint, entrepreneurs: The booming Hispanic market offers huge opportunities.)
Other minority groups are gaining ground as well. By 2060, as Hispanics make up 31 percent of the population, blacks will increase to 14.7 percent. Asians will increase to 8 percent, up from 5 percent.
Minority children will become the majority of children far sooner — in 2019. In 2011, racial and ethnic minorities became a majority among babies ages 1 and younger for the first time.
(Hint, hint, entrepreneurs: The baby goods and services market is changing and growing.)
Speaking of the young, here’s another Census Bureau observation. Young Americans are moving again. That trend slowed to near-record lows during the recession, which is bad because it contributes to economic stagnation. If young Americans are leaving home to start fresh someplace else, that’s good news, and not just for their empty-nest parents.
American history has shown constant change, which may be difficult for some but is necessary. For example, 2012 was the year when a majority of Americans first supported civil rights for gays and lesbians. It also took decades before we embraced the vote for women and civil rights for black Americans. But we did, and we are a far better people for it.
The emerging demographic changes will make us more diverse and, if we are smart, better and stronger.
— Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org