Changing Faces

Haya El Nasser, USA Weekend, January 17, 2013

If Rip van Winkle had slipped into his deep sleep 20 years ago and awakened today, he would have missed a stunning American revolution—a demographic one.

The USA now is:

• Led by a biracial president who will be sworn in Monday for a second term.

• More crowded (88 million more people).

• More diverse (Hispanics have surpassed blacks as the largest minority).

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Van Winkle probably would be even more slack-jawed at the cultural upheaval before his eyes.

There are “childless cities” and even more childless neighborhoods because people are having fewer babies.

There are more single people. The median age of marriage is at a new high (28.6 for men and 26.6 for women). More people are living alone or with unmarried partners, and less than half of households are traditional husband-and-wife arrangements.

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For most of the nation’s history, black-white race relations have dominated. Now, the surge in the number of Hispanics—who can be of any race but are counted as a group—has changed the equation. So has the rapid growth of Asians.

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Fueled by immigration and births to immigrants, diversity truly is at a tipping point.

“When one demographic group reaches one-third of the population, the group—if united—becomes very powerful and large enough to affect the election outcome,” says demographer Cheryl Russell, former editor in chief of American Demographics and now editorial director of New Strategist Publications. “This is what happened in the last election.”

Consider: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gained an unprecedented advantage among whites but lost largely by underestimating the political clout of blacks, Asians and Hispanics, according to a Brookings analysis of the 2012 election. President Obama carried those groups by a margin of 80%.

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Change is happening fast. Just since 2000, the percentage of non-whites went from 31% to 37%. But among the under-45 group, share of whites will slip under 50% in 15 years. Among kids, it will happen in six years.

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So, to all those who may have slept through this demographic revolution, wake up to the new face of America. Says Russell: “We are going through a major transformation.”

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