An Impending National Transformation

Bruce Katz and Judith Rodin, Politico, May 9, 2010

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In a first-ever comprehensive study of America’s large metropolitan areas, we have found that the United States is undergoing the most significant socio-demographic change since the huge wave of immigrants in the early 20th century

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Cities and large metropolitan areas are leading this transformation and may, in many ways, determine the path forward. America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas already account for two-thirds of our population and generate 75 percent of our gross domestic product.

But we are growing rapidly. Our population exceeded 300 million in 2006, and we are on track to hit 350 million in the next 15 years.

What will America and its cities look like in 2025? Who will these 50 million new Americans be? Based on our new analysis, America will probably be older, more diverse, more urban–and less equal.

Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 83 percent of our population growth this last decade. We are well on the way to becoming a majority-minority society.

America in 2025 may also be significantly older. The number of seniors and boomers already exceeded 100 million this past decade.

{snip} Yet, if we continue as today, we could be living in a far less competitive and equitable society.

Today, whites and Asians are more than twice as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree as blacks and Latinos, and young people are lagging. Low-wage workers saw real hourly earnings decline by 8 percent this decade; high-wage workers saw wages rise by 3 percent.

Should these trends continue, America in 2025 may have cities that can’t support their aging citizens; transportation infrastructure ill-equipped to meet the needs of young or old, and a gap between rich and poor that could grow with our population.

We could be living in a less prosperous society. Indeed, our national prosperity in 2025 might depend on whether we master this demographic change and leverage its possibilities in two fundamental ways.

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Consider that in our greater metropolitan areas, 70 percent of older Americans now live in suburbs, which were not designed for aging populations. For the first time, the majority of the nation’s poor now also live in suburbs.

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Yet, overall, the United States is a demographically blessed nation. Our competitors in Europe and Asia are either growing slowly, as in Japan and China; or actually declining, as in Germany and Russia.

In a fiercely competitive world, demographic transformation may be America’s ace in the hole.

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