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Demographer's Art of Prediction Often Imitates Life

Frey has already written about the emerging New Sunbelt, which includes states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington and Idaho. There, younger families that are no longer able to afford suburbia in New Jersey or California will move in.

In 20 years, they will be long settled and pushing their "fiscally conservative but socially liberal" political interests to the fore.

"They are chasing the American dream," Frey says. "It used to be a home with a Chevy and a television. Now it is a McMansion, an SUV and a satellite dish."

Moreover, these once typically white areas will start attracting middle-class immigrants also chasing an ideal lifestyle and others coming to fill newly created jobs, Frey predicts. The racial dynamics will change but not go so far as to make these states fully fledged melting pots.

Talk of race will have changed dramatically, Frey says. By 2026, "federally discussed racial categories," as they are used today, will be far less meaningful, he predicts. In Los Angeles, 25 percent of the population will be mixed race, with 20 percent in New York. One in six babies born that year will most likely not fall into a single category, he says, citing a rising number of relationships between Hispanics and Asians and other races.

One city that is seeing vast changes is Washington. Frey began working in the city in January 2003, but still spends much of the year in Michigan.

"It is a unique city that attracts people from all over," he says. "Not long ago, this was a mainly black and white city, but now it is much more of an international city."

Recently, Frey has turned his mind to what he says was once the city with the "most rooted" black population in the country -- New Orleans -- where nine in 10 inhabitants were born in Louisiana. He says that "the big issue now is how many people are going to come back" after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. His work has shown that it is the poorest people, living the farthest away, who have the least information on what is happening to their homes and may be the least likely to return.

If they do, Frey will be watching. After all, demography is his thing: "It's been said that 'demography is destiny,' but that grossly understates its relevance," he said. "In a country that is, at once, aging and 'younging' and receiving newcomers from all over the world, demographic shifts affect all of us, every day."


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