Diversity Is an Opportunity, Not a Threat, for America

William H. Frey, CNN, March 29, 2016

America’s ongoing diversity explosion should be greeted with optimism because of the opportunities it presents for revitalizing our country, energizing our labor force and providing greater connectivity to the global economy. But there is a hidden danger lurking in the form of an emerging generation gap with strong racial overtones that, left unchecked, could become a significant obstacle to progress.

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The demographic reality is that America’s youth–and more specifically its racial minority youth–is its future. The white population in this country is rapidly graying with a median age of 43 (compared with 37 for the whole population and 28 for Hispanics)–and it is growing very slowly. According to census estimates, there is an absolute decline in the number of white youth younger than 20 that is projected to continue over the foreseeable future.

Because of the growth of Hispanics, Asians, blacks and other races, the United States will be able to replenish its younger population, unlike Germany, some other European countries and Japan. Two years ago, minorities began to account for more than half of public school children, and between now and 2030, all of the growth in the population in prime labor force ages (18-64) will be comprised of racial minorities.

However, the nation’s young minority population, now more important than ever to its future, has a long way to go. Underresourced and effectively segregated schools are still the norm in many urban areas, leading to Hispanic and black high school dropout rates still well above those of whites. And the range of campus protests last fall in both large public and elite private schools signals future difficulties in assimilating generations to come.

Add in the sustained high rates of black and Hispanic child poverty, and it is clear that a range of public solutions are needed to improve youth education and to support young families.

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{snip} A new study that I co-authored with Ruy Teixeira and Robert Griffin shows that the nation’s changing demography will lead to Democratic presidential wins in every election beyond 2020 even if the white and minority voting patterns of the 2004 election (when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry) were to persist into the future, as well as under most other scenarios.

In other words, an election strategy of appealing to whites only will have limited returns for Republicans in presidential politics, as younger minorities become a larger part of the electorate. {snip}

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There are, in fact, legitimate policies that can be advanced by both parties to foster success among America’s next highly diverse generation. Yet instead of addressing those, we appear headed toward a general election with candidates talking past each other and fueling potentially dangerous divisions.

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