U.S. to Grow Grayer, More Diverse

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2008

The nation's population will look dramatically different by mid-century, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse and a good deal older as it increases from about 302 million to 439 million by 2050, according to projections released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The findings are in line with recent analyses published by independent demographers, but they are the first such official Census Bureau projections in years.

Minorities, about one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become a majority by 2042 and be 54 percent of U.S. residents by 2050.

The shift will happen sooner among children, 44 percent of whom are minority. By 2023, more than half are expected to be minority, and by 2050, the proportion will be 62 percent.

The largest share of children, 39 percent, is projected to be Hispanic, followed by non-Hispanic whites (38 percent), African Americans (11 percent) and Asians (6 percent).

Hispanics, including immigrants and their descendants as well as U.S.-born residents whose American roots stretch back generations, are expected to account for the most growth among minorities. That population is expected to nearly triple by 2050, growing from about one in six residents to one in three.

The black and Asian populations are each expected to increase about 60 percent, with the black share rising from 14 to 15 percent by 2050 and the Asian share jumping from 5 to 9 percent.

The number of people who identify themselves as being from two or more races is also expected to grow, more than tripling to 16.2 million, or 4 percent of the population.

By contrast, the non-Hispanic, single-race white population is expected to grow by less than 2 percent, reducing its share of the overall population from 66 to 46 percent. That group is projected to decline in the 2030s and 2040s, as more members die than are born in or move to the United States.

However, the 65-and-older population is expected to remain mostly white because of the number of whites born during the post-World War II baby boom. By 2030, all boomers will be 65 or older; by 2050, that age group will have more than doubled and will account for more than one in five residents, compared with one in eight today.

Similarly, the 85-and-older population is expected to more than triple, accounting for about 4 percent of U.S. residents in 2050, compared with fewer than 2 percent today.

The percentage of the population that is of working age will drop from 63 to 57 percent. As is the case with children, the working-age population is projected to become majority-minority before 2050. By mid-century, it is expected to be 30 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black and nearly 10 percent Asian.

William H. Frey, a researcher with the Brookings Institution, said the demographic changes could presage equally profound political cleavages.

"Politically, whites will be much more interested in issues like health care and pensions," he said. "At the same time, the growing minority population -- Hispanics, especially -- will be concerned about more youthful issues, like schools."

Other analysts focused on the potential environmental and quality-of-life effects of the projected population increases and the degree to which immigration might affect them.

"What this population rise means to me is anywhere from 40 to 80 million more cars on the road, 35 to 40 million more houses built," said Steven Camarota, a researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter limits on immigration.

"As a consequence of federal immigration policy, we're going to be a significantly more densely settled country," Camarota said, "and it's important to recognize that this is a choice we're making. This is not the weather that we have no control over. This is something we can change, so it's worth asking ourselves if this is something we want."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company