World

Minorities change US demographics

Ed Pilkington

More than half the babies under the age of one are now likely to be Hispanic, black or Asian, writes Ed Pilkington.

Three men sit near the fence separating the US and Mexico. Births and not illegal immigration account for the growth in the number of Hispanics in the US. (Eric Thayer, Reuters)

The United States has passed a landmark in its demographic make-up, presaging a monumental shift in the country’s culture, politics and economics. For the first time in its history, minority groups have accounted for more than half of all births.

New figures released by the US Census Bureau underline the changing face of the world’s superpower. They show that most children born between July 2010 and July 2011 belonged to ethnic or racial minorities. Hispanic families are driving the demographic growth.

During this year, up to 1.98-million non-Hispanic white babies were born, just less than half of the four million total births. The proportion of white births fell to 49.6% in this period. This figure has never before dropped below the halfway mark since European immigration to the US began.

The milestone has been a long time coming, with key demographic trends leading up to it for at least two decades. But the fact that American children under the age of one are now more likely to be Hispanic, black or Asian than they are to be white is enormously significant.

Majority minority
“When you have more than half the births within minority groups, it sets the stage for huge change in this country,” said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.

The change is most visible in four states – California, Hawaii, Texas and New Mexico – that already claim to be “majority minority” because more than 50% of their populations is drawn from minority groups.

Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of children under 18 who were non-Hispanic white declined in all but four states – North and South Carolina, Idaho and Utah – whereas the proportion of Hispanic children increased in all 50 states.

The shift will make the political debate over illegal immigration into the US across the Mexican border irrelevant. Two-thirds of the growth in the Hispanic population comes from births rather than migration and under US laws all the more than one million babies born to Latina mothers in 2010 to 2011 are US citizens.

The presidential elections could also be determined by a handful of swing states with large Hispanic populations, from Colorado to Florida. Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency could suffer because of the hardline anti-illegal immigration posture he took in the primary stage of the race. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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