Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
People of color will be a majority in the American working class by 2032, according to a new analysis.
People of color in the U.S. will outnumber whites by 2043, but another important demographic milestone is due even sooner. By 2032, America’s working class will become majority-minority, with whites making up less than half of the total share, according to a new report.
Economic Policy Institute’s Valerie Wilson estimates that shift based on historical economic and demographic trends over the past 20 years in a new analysis. Here’s a graph illustrating the main finding:
This is a big deal. The working class made up two-thirds of the U.S labor force in 2013. “We’re talking about a significant number of people who help to keep the economy going,” Wilson, the lead author of the report, tells CityLab. And while the working class might be a smaller portion of the workforce by 2032, at 58 percent, it will still be the majority.
Clearly, the well-being of this group now and in years to come is important. In order to ensure that well-being, racial gaps and class gaps will both have to be addressed as the group becomes less and less white. “Those are increasingly becoming dual imperatives,” Wilson says.
What’s driving this change?
Using educational attainment trends within racial groups and workforce projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wilson estimates that Hispanic men will be the largest-growing segment of the working class: their share will grow 7.2 percent between 2013 and 2032. Hispanic women will be next with a 4.5 percent increase. Among the white working class folks, the decrease is driven by women (down 7.9 percent); men will see a 5.1 percent decrease.
What’s happening here is that as the young, Hispanic population swells, so does the share of them without college degrees. (That makes sense, because blacks and Latinos are currently the least likely groups to graduate with a four-year college degree.) On the other hand, the white population has a higher college graduation rate in general, and within it, women are more likely to get their degrees. So white folks are less and less likely to be a part of the working class:
What issues should we be addressing to prepare for this shift?
Wilson highlights wage stagnation as the primary issue facing the working class, and it’s one that affects every single racial group within it. Since 1979, the median hourly wage growth for U.S. workers, including those in the working class, has not kept pace with productivity (a measure of efficiency, and therefore an indicator of how much workers should be getting paid).
Within the working class, however, racial and gender disparities persist. In 2014, the EPI report shows, the median ratios of wages of black and Hispanic men compared to white men weren’t all that different from 1979. The gender gap has improved, in part, because of men’s falling wages. But among women in the working class, those of color are still lagging behind. Here’s a chart showing the median wage by race and gender as a percentage of that of white men’s:
Wilson’s larger takeaway stands contrary to the familiar talking points of politicians, like Donald Trump, who blame one or the other group for the economic woes of the whole. The truth is that everyone in the working class has lost ground, economically speaking—the usual scapegoats even more so than others. By logical extension, everyone in the working class could stand to benefit from economic policies that raise the minimum wage, institute equal pay for equal work, and reduce unemployment, Wilson says. “It’s increasingly more important for us to recognize that we have more in common than not,” she says. “A lot of the divisiveness that is coded racially is counterproductive in terms of accomplishing the broader economic goals.”