Minority babies outnumbered white newborns in 2011 for the first time in U.S. history, the latest milestone in a demographic shift that’s transforming the nation.
The percentage of nonwhite newborns rose to 50.4 percent of children younger than a year old from April 2010 to July 2011, while non-Hispanic whites fell to 49.6 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau said today.
The trend is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the country’s political alignment, the nature of its workforce and on its economic future. Predominantly white, older enclaves in the Northeast and Midwest will increasingly rely on an expanding population of young Asians and Hispanics in the West and Sun Belt to support Social Security and other retirement programs.
“This is a fundamental tipping point signaling a change in our demographic structure for decades to come,” William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in an e-mail.
The figures highlight the rapid growth in the Hispanic and Asian populations, both of which have surged by more than 40 percent since 2000. Hispanics were 16.7 percent of the population in July 2011 and Asians were 4.8 percent. The black population has grown 12.9 percent since 2000 and makes up 12.3 percent of the nation. Non-Hispanic whites rose only 1.5 percent from 2000 to 2011, slower than the national growth of 9.7 percent, and are now 63.4 percent of the population.
Becoming a Minority
Four states -- Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas, plus the District of Columbia -- now have majority-minority populations.
A 2009 Census report estimated that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of the total population after the 2040 Census, making up 48.5 percent in 2045. The government plans to release revised projections later this year, said Alexa Jones-Puthoff, chief of the bureau’s population estimates branch.
The Hispanic growth rate is being driven more by native births than immigration, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, which reported last month that the net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has stopped and may be reversing. The growth of Latino residents is the result of a younger population and higher fertility rates, said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer for the Washington-based center.
“The younger the age group, the less white it is,” he said.
In Georgia, the number of Hispanic babies grew 20.9 percent from April 2010 to July 2011, the fastest rate of any state. It will probably become majority-minority by 2025, said Matt Hauer, director of the University of Georgia’s Applied Demography Program.
“It’s been on this path for the last 10 or 20 years,” Hauer, a former Census Bureau statistician, said in a telephone interview. “But it’s been accelerating over the past decade. And it’s not just any one area -- this is a statewide phenomenon.”
The differences have become stark in Texas, said Mark Fossett, director of the Texas Census Research Data Center at Texas A&M University. The state added more Hispanic babies during the 15-month period to July 2011 than any other.
“If you’re 60 years old, this is an Anglo state,” he said. “That’s where you see the wealth, income, home ownership, and high-voting patterns. Anything else, especially below 18, the school-age population, looks Latino.”
Pressure on Schools
Fossett said the increase in children is putting pressure on the school system in the state, where the legislature last year cut more than $5 billion in education funding from its two-year budget of $172.3 billion.
“Now, you’ve got all your standard requirements for meeting the needs of an urban economy and a large school population whose parents have lower educational levels and lower incomes,” he said. “This is occurring right at a time when Texas is cutting down on education spending.”
Texas is home to the nation’s two most minority counties -- Maverick at 96.8 percent and Webb at 96.4 percent.
In California, minority babies first outnumbered white newborns in 1985, said Hans Johnson, policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that provides research on social, economic and political issues. By 2004, he said a majority of births in the state were Hispanic.
California began passing laws designed to curb benefits for immigrants in 1994 with Proposition 187, which would have barred illegal immigrants from using health-care or education services, Johnson said. It was thrown out by a federal court. That was followed a few years later by Proposition 209, which eliminated affirmative action for jobs and college admissions, and Proposition 227, which got rid of bilingual education.
States trying to enact similar anti-immigration laws may be hurting themselves in the long run, Johnson said, as white, non-Hispanics become older and need taxpayer-funded services.
“Were it not for immigrants coming to the U.S., we would actually be a much older population, possibly even a place that’s losing population,” he said.
The Social Security trust funds that pay retirement, disability and survivor’s benefits to one in four U.S. households will be exhausted by 2033, the federal program’s trustees said in a report released last month. The main fund that pays for the federal Medicare health-insurance program for the elderly will run out of money in 2024, the report said.
Currently, there are 4.8 working-age Americans for every person older than 65. By 2035, that number will fall to 2.8 people per retiree.
While the transition to a majority-minority nation won’t be smooth, the U.S. has proven its ability to absorb new racial and ethnic groups in the past, said Passel, the Pew demographer.
“If you go back 100 years, groups that are now considered part of the majority white population were perceived as minorities,” he said. “Over time, we’ll change the way we perceive these categories.”