Among children, the point when minorities become the majority is expected to arrive much sooner, by 2018 or so. Last year, racial and ethnic minorities became a majority among babies under age 1 for the first time in U.S. history.
At the same time, the U.S. population as a whole is aging, driven by 78 million mostly white baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. By 2030, roughly 1 in 5 residents will be 65 and older. Over the next half century, the “oldest old” — those ages 85 and older — will more than triple to 18.2 million, reaching 4 percent of the U.S. population.
The actual shift in demographics will be shaped by a host of factors that can't always be accurately pinpointed — the pace of the economic recovery, cultural changes, natural or manmade disasters, as well as an overhaul of immigration law, which is expected to be debated in Congress early next year.
“The next half century marks key points in continuing trends — the U.S. will become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority,” said acting Census Bureau Director Thomas Mesenbourg.
Republicans have been seeking to broaden their appeal to minorities, who made up 28 percent of the electorate this year, after faring poorly among non-whites on Election Day, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried only about 20 percent of non-white votes.
The race and ethnic changes are already seen in pockets of the U.S. and in the younger age groups, where roughly 45 percent of all students in K-12 are Hispanics, blacks, Asian-Americans and others. Already, the District of Columbia and four states — Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas — have minority populations greater than 50 percent; across the U.S., more than 11 percent of counties have tipped to “majority-minority” status.
Last month, nearly all voters over age 65 were white (87 percent), but among voters under age 30, just 58 percent were white.
“Irrespective of future immigration and minority fertility patterns, the U.S. is facing a stagnating white population,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “The biggest shift will occur over the next 20 years as the mostly white baby boom generation moves into traditional retirement years. It is in the child and early labor force ages where we must be ready for the greatest changes as new American minorities take over for aging whites.”
Economically, the rapidly growing non-white population gives the U.S. an advantage over other developed nations, including Russia, Japan and France, which are seeing reduced growth or population losses due to declining birth rates and limited immigration. The combined population of more-developed countries other than the U.S. has been projected to decline beginning in 2016, raising the prospect of prolonged budget crises as the number of working-age citizens diminish, pension costs rise and tax revenues fall.
Depending on future rates of immigration, the U.S. population is estimated to continue growing through at least 2060. In a hypothetical situation in which all immigration — both legal and illegal — immediately stopped, previous government estimates have suggested the U.S. could lose population beginning in 2048.
“Young families — many of them first or second-generation immigrants — have been the engine of U.S. population growth for several decades,” said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau.