America’s Changing Demographics

As The Guardian reports, an already-diverse American population is about to become even more pluralistic, as Europe’s historic role as a major source of immigrants shifts to Asia and Latin America.

An increase in Asian and Hispanic immigration … will drive U.S. population growth, with foreign-born residents expected to make up 18% of the country’s projected 441 million people in 50 years, the Pew Research Center said in a report being released on Monday.

This will be a record, higher than the nearly 15% during the late 19th century and early 20th century wave of immigration from Europe.

Today, immigrants make up 14% of the population, an increase from 5% in 1965.

The tipping point is expected to come in 2055, when Asians will become the largest immigrant group at 36%, compared with Hispanics at 34%. White immigrants to America, 80% back in 1965, will hover somewhere between 18% and 20% with black immigrants in the 8%-9% range, the study said.

Currently, 47% of immigrants living in the U.S. are Hispanic, but by 2065 that number will have dropped to 31%. Asians currently make up 26% of the immigrant population but in 50 years that percentage is expected to increase to 38%.

Immigrants from China and India will largely be driving the trend. The news might surprise most Americans given all the attention and concern regarding arrivals from south of the border; but with birth rates and economic prospects alike stabilizing, far fewer Latin Americans will be coming to the U.S. — though Hispanics will still remain the largest minority, owing to higher births within the country, rather than foreign arrivals. 

Moreover, 50 years from now, the U.S. will for the first time become a truly pluralistic country: while whites are currently the majority at 62 percent (followed by Hispanics at 18 percent, blacks at 12 percent, and Asians at 6 percent) no racial or ethnic group will be in the majority: whites will constitute 46 percent of the population, Hispanics at 24 percent, Asians at 14 percent and blacks at 13 percent. (Granted, many of those Hispanics will be white-passing and third or fourth generation, so contrary to popular belief, they will be fairly well integrated.)

Given the vast demographic changes ahead, and the current anxieties about immigrants (particularly those from Latin America), one can imagine that this news will be far from welcomed. But if this particular survey is any indication, tolerance and enthusiasm may yet prevail.

Pew also asked Americans surveyed for one word to describe immigrants in the U.S. today. Twelve per cent said “illegal”; “overpopulation” was at 5%; “legality (other than illegal)” at 4%; and “jobs”, “deportation”, “Americans” and “work ethic” at 3% each.

Forty-nine percent offered general descriptions, and of those 12% were positive, 11% negative and 26% neutral, according to the report.

Americans also said immigrants are likely to make the U.S. better, with 45% agreeing with that statement and 37% saying they make the country worse; 18% said they don’t have much of an effect one way or the other.

So depending on how you frame the issue, Americans are at worst divided on the issue; it remains to be seen which way the balance will tip as the country’s demographics continue to change. Will an increasingly more diverse society subsequently become more accepting of diversity? Or will the sizeable “native” population, namely whites, push back against the perceived threat to American identity and culture? What are your thoughts?

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