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Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Demographic Divide

Ronald Brownstein writes in National Journal of an important demographic trend:

Census data show a widening demographic divide between America’s youth and senior populations. Brookings Institution demographer William Frey tracks what he calls the “cultural generation gap”—the difference in the white share of the population among children (under 18) and seniors (over 65). In 2000, whites comprised about 61 percent of America’s children and almost 84 percent of its seniors, for a 23-point gap. By 2010, the gap had widened to about 26 points, because whites still comprise 80 percent of seniors, but plummeted to less than 54 percent of children. As recently as 1980, the difference between the white share of the senior and the youth populations was only about half that big.

This change’s principal engine is the young and burgeoning Hispanic population, which is rapidly dispersing beyond the traditional big-city immigration magnets. As a result, the cultural generation gap is not only deepening but also broadening to affect more places. Although the senior population remains at least 60 percent white in every state except Hawaii, minorities now constitute a majority of the under-18 population in 10 states and more than 40 percent in 12 more, Frey’s figures show. That current is washing over states not previously touched by diversity, including Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Utah. Indeed, since 2000 the minority share of the youth population has increased in every state. “You have a whole generation of young people … whose peers are not majority white any more,” Frey says.