White Share of U.S. Population Drops to Historic Low

The U.S. continued its transformation into a majority-minority nation last year, with Census Bureau data showing non-Hispanic whites making up the lowest percentage of the population in American history.

The estimates released today capture several milestones in the country’s demographic makeup. For the first time in more than a century, deaths outpaced births among white Americans. Almost half, 49.9 percent, of the nation’s children younger than 5 were minorities as of July 1. And the nation’s total minority population grew 21 times faster than whites.

Non-Hispanic whites, the nation’s predominant racial group, added 0.09 percent last year to increase their total to 197.7 million, about 63 percent of the total population. Even with the increase, the largest since 2008, the total number of white deaths exceeded white births by 12,419. In 2000, whites were 69 percent of the population, and 80 percent in 1980.

“A natural decrease and eventual loss in the white population is baked into the cake of our older white population,” William H. Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based policy research group, said in an e-mail. “It’s the younger, rapidly growing minority population that will be driving economic and demographic growth this century.”

Minorities younger than 18 are expected to overtake the number of white children by 2019, the Census Bureau said last year. The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation by 2043.

Natural Decrease

The Census Bureau reported that multiracial Americans were the fastest-growing racial group last year, adding 3.1 percent to climb to a total of 6 million. The group has only been counted since the 2000 Census. The total estimated U.S. population climbed 0.75 percent last year to 313,914,040.

Asians, who were the fastest-growing racial group from 2000 to 2010, were the second fastest-growing racial group last year, with their ranks climbing by 2.9 percent. All minority groups, including Hispanics, registered a 1.9 percent gain in population from 2011 to 2012. Blacks increased their ranks by 0.9 percent.

More than 53 percent of the nation’s 3,143 counties had a “natural decrease” in the number of whites in 2010, the latest year for which county-level data are available, said Kenneth Johnson, a University of New Hampshire demographer.

“This is the first time there has ever been an overall non-Hispanic white natural decrease in the U.S.,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail.

Twister Fallout

Slightly more than two-thirds of U.S. counties registered a decrease in white people from 2011 to 2012, according to census data compiled by Bloomberg. Jasper County, Missouri, part of the Joplin area, lost 2.3 percent of its white population after a 2011 tornado that killed 158 people and ranks as the costliest single twister in U.S. history.

Almost 1 percent of the white population left Nassau County, New York, a suburb of the nation’s largest city; Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland; and Hunterdon County, New Jersey, one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S.

As the growth of white Americans slowed to a crawl or decreased in most U.S. counties, higher-than-average white population growth occurred in traditionally minority areas. The number of whites grew 4 percent in heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade County, Florida; 3.1 percent in predominantly black Orleans Parish, Louisiana; and 3 percent in the District of Columbia, which slid to a 48.6 percent black minority from a 1970 peak of

71.1 percent majority.

Economy’s Influence

The relatively small increase in total U.S. population in 2012 was most likely due to the nation’s weak economic performance in recent years.

“If you look at the last few years, it’s hard to tie the slow growth to a rational argument that doesn’t involve the economy,” John Seager, president of the Population Connection, a Washington-based research organization, said in a telephone interview. Seager said non-Hispanic whites will continue to be the largest racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for many years even as the nation becomes more diverse.

“I travel quite a bit, and I haven’t discerned a shocking lack of white people anywhere,” he said. “So I don’t feel like a beleaguered minority just yet.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE