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Why America Can’t Put Off Tackling Racial Inequality

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"Why America Can’t Put Off Tackling Racial Inequality"

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(Credit: Flickr user Ted Eytan)

Today, CAP released a detailed, beautifully-produced report on creating an “All-In Nation,” meaning a country whose future economy will be unriven by structural racial inequality. Why is this perennial challenge particularly critical now? Because America’s demographics are rapidly, inevitably changing, and the less white America becomes, the more actue the problem of economic racial inequality becomes.

In the 1960s, America was a much different nation, and many would argue a much scarier place. Internationally, we endured the constant saber rattling of the Cold War and its threat of nuclear annihilation. Domestically we faced implosion from deep racial wounds allowed to fester and putrefy for too long. Yet the nation, at least in word if not fully in deed, mustered the resolve to overcome fear and committed to full political equality and economic opportunity for African Americans, Latinos, and women while seeking to eradicate the most extreme poverty in America’s cities and rural areas. These were big and lofty goals and though we fell short, the mere act of setting these goals enhanced the nation’s standing in the world and helped build a sense that we could tackle big problems at home.

Today we live in an America that is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. In November 2012, we were reminded of this when President Barack Obama was re-elected by the most diverse electorate in U.S. history, winning with communities of color by a margin of roughly 80 percent to 18 percent. This new rising electorate also added a number of new faces to the 113th Congress, including members from every race and ethnic group, a record number of women, and the country’s first openly gay elected senator. It is an undeniable fact that the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, bolting toward the day when there will no longer be any clear racial or ethnic majority in the U.S. population. Already more than half of newborns today are of color, and demographers predict that more than half of all youth will be of color before the end of this decade. As youth drive this demographic change, each generation is becoming more and more racially and ethnically mixed than the one before.

Obviously, we need to adapt our policies and our country to these momentous changes. How fast? Well, consider these facts and projections, based on US Census Bureau data. Start with majority-minority states: today only four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas) and the District of Columbia are majority-minority. But that will change rapidly if 2000-2010 rates of change persist this decade and beyond. In this decade, we would expect Nevada (46 percent minority in 2010), Maryland (45 percent minority), Georgia (44 percent) and possibly Florida (42 percent) to pass that threshhold. In the 2020’s, Arizona, New Jersey and possibly Delaware and New York should follow suit. And by 2050, we may also see majority-minority populations in Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington state and possibly even Alaska.

That’s just the roster of possible majority-minority states. It’s important to emphasize how widespread the transformation of the country is likely to be, as diversity spreads deeply into seemingly unlikely states. We can see this by estimating the 2050 minority share in states by using two simple methods. The first applies the 2000-2010 growth rates of the white and minority populations respectively to the next four decades. The second applies the 2000-2010 minority shift in population share to the same time period. Both figures are likely on the high side and necessarily speculative, as emphasized above, but it’s worth noting that the overall US shift in minority share predicted by the second method is fairly close to the figure from the Census projections.

Kansas is predicted to have 50 percent minority in 2050 by the first method while the second method predicts a somewhat more modest, but still eye-catching 42 percent share. Utah is predicted to have 49 percent minorities by the first method and 39 percent by the second. Pennsylvania is projected to be 47 percent minority by the first method and 39 percent by the second. And states like Ohio and Michigan, as slow-changing as they are, could still be around a third minority by 2050.

These state level changes will be manifested most vividly in the large metropolitan areas where most Americans live. The largest 100 metro areas in the United States, with populations ranging from 514,000 (Modesto, CA) to almost 19 million (New York), include about two-thirds of the US population according to the 2010 Census. Between 1990 and 2010, the combined white share of these metros’ population declined from 71 to 57 percent while minorities rose from 29 to 43 percent. Of that 14 point increase in minority share, 9 points came from Hispanic growth.

These changes drove the number of majority-minority large metros from 5 in 1990 to 22 in 2010, including such important areas as San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston, Miami, New York and Washington. If trends observed in the last couple of decades continue, most large metros should be majority-minority by 2050. The list of new majority-minority metros is likely to include Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Raleigh, Sacramento, Seattle, Tampa and Tuscon. Overall, the minority percentage across large metros should be pushing 70 percent.

As these data show, change is coming very fast. In the next 37 years, diversity is likely to spread far beyond the traditional “melting pot” states and metros to every corner of the country. Diversity will increasingly be a lived reality for the overwhelming majority of Americans. That is why we need an “All-In Nation” — the sooner, the better.

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