America is a much more diverse country — in every region — than it was during the last century. That's largely due to the nearly record-topping share of the country's population that is comprised of immigrants, from areas of the world in which people were once forbidden to migrate to the United States. These trends, taken together, have transformed the makeup of the U.S. population — and with it, what many American cities (and television screens and city halls) look and sound like.
Those are the findings of a new report released by the Pew Research Center on Monday. The bottom line is this: The American demographic landscape has shifted considerably.
The number of immigrants who call the United States home has never been higher, and the percentage who are immigrants is higher than it's been in more than a century. The foreign-born comprise nearly 14 percent of the nation's total population; that's the most since European immigrants flooded into the United States in the 1890s.
And changes in the country's immigration laws have boosted the number of migrants coming from Asia, Africa and the Middle East — parts of the world from which migration was at points banned or consciously limited by 19th- and early-20th-century lawmakers who wanted to maintain a population that was primarily Western European in origin.
At the same time, a downturn in the U.S. economy and boosted fortunes in some parts of Latin America have stemmed the tide of legal and undocumented immigrants entering the United States from the region, including Mexico. Illegal migration to the United States peaked a decade ago, in 2005.
Today, Asian — and in particular, highly educated Southeast Asian — immigrants are now on track to become the nation's largest immigrant group. These immigrants, along with refugees and undocumented immigrants, have laid down roots in regions of this country that until the 1990s had not seen many immigrants in nearly 100 years.
For added detail about the way that the population has changed in your state, consider moving the timeline and reviewing Pew's interactive national map here.
This collection of "new Americans" is responsible for the majority of the nation's population growth. Put another way: If current immigration and birthrates continue at roughly the same rate in the years between 2015 and 2065, the children of immigrants are expected to account for 88 percent of the U.S. population increase, or 103 million people, according to the Pew report. And whites (or any other racial or ethnic group) won't comprise the nation's majority by about the middle of this century. The Pew report puts that date at 2055.
Pew's team of experienced population researchers arrived at these conclusions after poring over birth, death and migration data. So yes, this is a picture of the American public and its future that should be regarded as far more cogent than anything — yes, anything — offered up this year as the presidential campaign season has begun.
But it is also a picture that will, undoubtedly, unnerve some Americans. If it does, consider this your please-calm-yourself warning.
In the latter part of the 19th century, more people — with often less education and fewer language skills — flooded into this country at a slightly higher rate. And as those people got jobs, set up homes and built families and entire lives in the United States, they managed all manner of other things that presumably contributed to the sense that this country was once great.
If that historical context does not calm whatever level of xenophobia might be inside you, then this should:
America's changing demographics will never be returned to the place in which white Americans will maintain a comfortable numerical majority — not via any kind of immigration reform nor any brand of mass deportation. We are well past the point that such a transformation is even possible. It's now a matter of when, not if.
(A note here: GOP front-runner Donald Trump's call for an 18-month program of mass and absolute deportations would require the country to identify, find and then remove more than 20,000 people per day. And, barring some sort of change in the Constitution, this would still leave in place some of the American-born progeny of undocumented immigrants, as well as the fast-growing American-born Latino and Asian populations.)
Steve Murdoch, a Rice University demographer who led the Census Bureau during George W. Bush's tenure in the White House, has told me more than once that this is the statistical reality that America simply must face.
Murdoch does not mean to suggest that you should be kind and welcoming to your new American neighbors. He doesn't even mean that the population is changing in a way that there probably aren't many more successful campaigns for public office that can be built around the idea that different policies and practices could somehow make the country look, feel and sound like it did in 1950. The former is debatable; the latter is not.
White Americans, as has been often repeated but is worth noting here, are not just a shrinking part of the American population, but also its electorate. Some of that is due to birth rates, immigration and deaths, and some of that can only be explained by examining something almost never mentioned — that the share of white Americans who actually vote in presidential elections has been shrinking since 2004. That's a choice white voters are making.
What Murdoch means is this: The United States is a country that has for two centuries ultimately accepted a long list of policies and practices that reserve the bulk of its best schools and neighborhoods, health care and housing, jobs and wages for white Americans. This is the American way that will simply have to change in the face of a United States whose makeup is rapidly changing.