The U.S. risks a deteriorating workforce unless it rapidly improves educational achievement for minority groups who soon will become a majority in the nation, researchers say.
“If we just do a snapshot of minority performance today and project that 20 years out, we’re going to have a poorly skilled workforce,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
Census Bureau data released yesterday show whites of European ancestry will soon bear less than half the nation’s new babies. Blacks, Asians, American Indians, Hispanics and other traditional minority groups had 2.07 million children in the 12 months ended July 1, or 48.6 percent of all births, an increase from 45 percent in 2005, the Census Bureau said.
For the period ending July 1, non-Hispanic whites had 2.19 million children, or 51.4 percent of all births compared with 55 percent four years earlier, Census figures showed.
While the educational performance of blacks and Hispanics has improved in recent decades, they continue on average to score about four grade levels below whites in the 12th grade, said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in Washington.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2005, the most recent year for which 12th-grade scores are available, black high school seniors had an average reading score of 266 and Hispanics 271, similar to the average score among white eighth graders. The average score for white high school seniors was 291.
“Given the changes in the economy which requires workers to be both literate and numerate, the effects of not addressing this gap would be catastrophic,” Kahlenberg said.
The shift in the newborn population underscores the U.S.’s demographic transformation. Minority groups are projected to be in the majority by midcentury and already are altering the nation’s politics and culture.
Minority workers will assume an increasingly important role as the post-World War II baby boomer generation retires, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“It will be quite different than what the baby boom generation experienced growing up in the 1950s and 1960s with a largely white population,” he said. “They’ll have different tastes in terms of music, in terms of food, in terms of family units and the emphasis on family, in terms of the type of religious communities they form, in contrast to the large white European Protestant and Catholic population we had in the past.”
Less Than Half
The Census Bureau estimates whites of European descent will make up less than half the U.S. population by 2042. By 2023, minorities will be a majority of children under 18, the bureau projects. Four states already have “majority-minority” populations: California, Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii.
The election of Barack Obama as president reflects the shift. He was able to win states that had voted Republican in recent presidential elections such as Nevada, Colorado and Virginia and captured Florida as well with help from Hispanic and black voters, Frey said.
“That will just spread,” Frey said. “They don’t have to have all the votes. They just have to have enough to make up the difference.”
The demographic change is driven by immigration and higher fertility rates among minorities, he said.
Fewer white women are in their peak child-bearing years. The median age for non-Hispanic white women in 2009 was 42.6 versus 27.5 for Hispanic women, 33.3 for black women and 36.3 for Asian woman, according to the Census Bureau.
Blacks accounted for 17.6 percent of all births in the 12 months ending July 1, up from 17 percent in 2005; Hispanics accounted for 25.8 percent in 2009 compared with 22.6 percent four years earlier; Asians had 6.1 percent of all births as of July 1, up from 5.5 percent four years earlier, Census figures showed.