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March of the Non-White Babies

Demographer William Frey explains how minorities are poised to re-map America.

Mark Byrnes/CityLab

By 2042, there will be no racial majority in the United States. "Minorities"—or groups that are thought of as minorities now—will outnumber the white population. This isn't a small deal. It's going to be this century's baby boom, affecting everything from family structures to economic trends to, obviously, voting patterns.

The U.S. minority population has been growing rapidly and will soon supersede the white population. (Brookings Institution Press)

In his new book Diversity Explosion, Brookings Institution demographer William Frey analyzes current demographic trends and predicts how they're going to shape America's not-so-distant future.  

The share of so-called "new minorities"—Hispanics, Asians and multi-racial groups in America—is going to double. If your first guess is that this is all due to immigration, you're not entirely wrong—it's because of past immigration. What's really driving the growth now (and will continue to do so in the future) is that majority of the immigrants who are already here are at the baby-making age.

"Back in the 1950s, we had a lot of Americans across the board in their childbearing years—we had all these babies," Frey explains. "Now, that's really only the case for some of the newer minorities."

The share of "new minorities"—Asians, Hispanics—is going to double. The multiracial population is going to grow to almost four times its current size. (Brookings Institution Press)

This is good news, demographically speaking, because as it turns out, the white population in the U.S. is aging pretty rapidly. This surge in minority births will arrive just in time to pick up the slack, Frey says. Absent any major change in immigration policy, the future of the American labor market will depend on the next generation of U.S.-born minorities.

We spoke with Frey to get a better understanding of how this new demographic reality is likely to be distributed geographically across the country. Below are excerpts from CityLab's conversation with him, illustrated by graphs and charts from his book.  

Where are all these "new minorities" likely to live?

Back in the 1990s, people were concerned that we were going to have some kind of "balkanization" of the different demographic groups—that the new Hispanic groups that were coming to the U.S. tended to stay in the major immigrant-magnet areas like Los Angeles, Miami or New York ... and the rest of the country was moving to other parts. In the last 15 years, that changed. We now have a spread of Hispanics, especially in the Southeast part of the country, which before the recession hit was a rapidly growing area—economically.

Also, [there will be migration to] the other parts of the "new Sunbelt" in the Mountain West. The fact that lots of jobs were moving there and lots of people from all over America were moving there has created opportunities in different segments of the labor force. The recession has slowed some of that movement up in the last few years. But I think that's temporary.

The Hispanic population is fanning out from immigrant enclaves to cities in the Southeast and Mountain West, where Frey predicts economic opportunities will grow. (Brookings Institution Press)
New destinations for the Asian population (that contains a variety of subgroups) include Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh, Phoenix, Tampa and Indianapolis. (Brookings Institution Press)

What about migration between cities and suburbs?

People used to move to the suburbs because they were raising kids and they wanted to have a place that's safe for raising their kids and have good schools. Now, that's the "new minorities," that's not whites anymore, and it's helping to make the suburbs a lot more vibrant.

We have, for a while, seen minorities move to the suburbs. More Asian metropolitan residents live in the suburbs than in the cities than two decades ago. Eventually, more Hispanics moved into the suburbs. Now, with the 2010 Census, there are more blacks moving to the suburbs ... which is a real milestone in the U.S. given the strong city-concentration of blacks for many, many, many decades. This younger generation of African-Americans—professionals and graduates—are moving off to the suburbs just like younger people have ... in other race groups.

What it means for the suburbs themselves is that they've got to open up their institutions and community organizations to people who are of different backgrounds.

The suburban minority population is growing, and it will continue to in the future. (Brookings Institution Press
There are more African-Americans living in suburbs than ever before. (Brookings Institution Press)

What about the African-American population overall?

In the 1990s and since 2000—the last 20 years or so—there's been a much more full migration of blacks back to the South. The major metropolitan area that's attracting blacks is Atlanta, which has been a fairly successful area for most of those areas. They haven't moved back as much to Alabama and Louisiana, places that haven't been doing as well.

Cities like Chicago, which gained African-Americans in the early part of the 20th century, are now losing blacks to metros like Atlanta. (Brookings Institution Press)

It's not just people who are desperate for jobs, these are younger, middle-class blacks who are moving there. Also, we're going to see in the next decade or so, many more African-American retirees who spent their lives in Northern cities will decide when they retire they're going to move to the South. What's interesting about the black migration back to the South is that it's a real destination for them.

It's the economy, but I also think it's a little bit of history, in that, maybe their parents weren't from there but maybe their grandparents were. Or they may have had aunts and uncles who lived there and they heard stories about the South. There's something about the history of the South and the culture of the South that's part of the pull as well.

Where does all of this leave the white population?

It's kind of a zero-sum population shift for whites. [The white population] isn't growing very rapidly at all. That means any place that gains whites through migration means some other place has to lose them. About 15 states, some 140 metropolitan areas, and more than half the counties in the states are losing whites. Where whites are going are to a lot of the same places that the minorities have been going—places that have good economies in the Southeast and the Mountain West.

What are the implications of all this reshuffling?

I'd like to think this whole story about the new minority growth in the country is a good news story for the U.S. We're seeing [the implications] in interracial marriages, we're seeing it in how it's affecting the politics of places. They move at different paces in different parts of the country—but it is a moving out and an integration—not only across regions, cities and suburbs, but at the neighborhood level.

That's not to say that there aren't going to be some difficult transitions. We've always had difficult transitions when we had new immigrants coming to the U.S.

One of the effects of the migration patterns Frey talks about is that segregation on a city and neighborhood level will decrease further. (Brookings Institution Press)
Interracial marriages will keep growing by leaps and bounds, fueling the growth of multiracial Americans. (Brookings Institution Press)

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.