Latest Census Data: When Will White Majority End?

DiversityInc, December 17th, 2009

By Sam Ali

Hampered by tougher immigration laws, the population growth of Latinos and Asians in the United States has slowed, causing the Census Bureau to push back estimates on when people from traditionally underrepresented groups will become the majority by a full eight years.

The date when whites will relinquish their hold as majority of the population in the United States has been extended to 2050, according to census data released Wednesday.

The nation's overall population of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians and people of mixed racial descent continues to rise steadily, adding 2.3 percent in 2008 to 104.6 million, or 34 percent of the total population. But the slowdown in the number of Latinos and Asians coming to this country has changed the timeline of when the actual tipping point will occur.

Last year, the Census Bureau predicted that white children would become a minority in 2023, and the overall white population would follow in 2042. The earlier estimate did not take into account a drop in the number of people moving to the United States because of the economic crisis and the immigration policies imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Currently, the U.S. population stands at 308 million, with nearly two-thirds of that number categorized as non-Hispanic whites. The white population has increased very little in recent years because of low birth rates and an aging boomer population.

According to the latest census projections:

The total U.S. population is expected to rise to 399 million by 2050, with whites making up 49.9 percent of figure Blacks will make up 12.2 percent, virtually unchanged from today Latinos and Asians still are the two fastest-growing minority groups, making up about 15 percent and 4.4 percent of the U.S. population, respectively.

The number of Latinos is expected to rise to 28 percent by 2050 Asians will become 6 percent of the population under the new numbers The projections are based on rates for births and deaths and a scenario in which immigration rates continue at their more recent, slower pace.

The Census Bureau said its new projections should be used mostly as a guide and noted that its August 2008 series remains the preferred one.

Among the other projections released on Wednesday:

So-called "minority" children will become the majority in 2031 instead of 2023, eight years later than the agency predicted last year The population of people ages 85 and older is projected to more than triple by 2050, to 18.6 million.

The actual shift in demographics will be influenced heavily by a host of factors that can't be readily predicted–the pace of the economic recovery, cultural changes, natural or manmade disasters. The bureau said that immigration will also play a major role in shaping the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population over the next four decades.

The most notable effects will impact the Asian and Latino populations. For example, the size and age structure of the Asian population is strongly linked to projected immigration, as opposed to birth rates, so any slowdown in immigration will have a marked impact on their numbers.

For the Latino population, however, immigration enhances their overall numbers. However, even in the absence of immigration, the size of the Latino population is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades because of the current age distribution of the Latino population and their higher fertility rates.

As a result, the Census Bureau offered up four alternate scenarios on Wednesday assuming high, low, constant or zero rates of immigration between 2000 and 2050 that could alter the size, growth rate, age structure and racial and ethnic composition of the U.S. population.

Under the high immigration scenario, spurred by more flexible government policies and a booming U.S. economy attracting more foreigners, the minority "tipping point" could move to 2040, two years earlier than the previous estimate .

Under the high immigration scenario, the Asian population will grow to 8 percent (as opposed to 6 percent) because the size and age structure of the Asian population is strongly linked to projected levels of immigration, as opposed to birth rates.

Under the low immigration scenario, people from traditionally underrepresented groups will become the majority by 2045 Under a purely theoretical "zero immigration" scenario where the United States does not allow any more immigrants into the country, whites would remain the majority in 2050, making up a solid 58 percent of the U.S. population.

Under this model, the Latino population would increase to 21 percent because of high fertility rates