What You Need to Know About the New United States

Major Demographic Changes of Age and Race Underway

Back in 2014 Pew Research Center released an interactive report titled “The Next America” that reveals the sharp demographic changes in age and racial make-up that are on track to have the US look like an entirely new country by 2060. The report focuses on major shifts in both the age and racial composition of the US population, and emphasizes the need for a retooling of Social Security, as the growth in the retired population will put increasing pressure on the decreasing proportion of the population supporting them.

An Aging Population Creates Crisis of Social Security

Historically the age make-up of the US, like other societies, has been shaped like a pyramid, with the largest proportion of the population among the youngest, and cohorts decreasing in size as age rises. However, thanks to longer life expectancy and lower overall birth rates, that pyramid is morphing into a rectangle. As a result, by 2060 there will be almost as many people over age 85 as there are under age 5.

As this major demographic shift takes place, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 and begin collecting Social Security everyday. This will continue until the year 2030, which puts pressure on the already stressed retirement system. In 1945, five years after Social Security was created, the ratio of workers to payees was 42:1. In 2010, thanks to our aging population, it was just 3:1. When all Baby Boomers are drawing that benefit the ratio will be reduced to two workers for every one recipient.

This suggests a grim outlook for the possibility of those currently paying the benefits to receive any when they retire, which suggests that the system needs revamping, and quick.

The End of the White Majority

The US population has been steadily diversifying in terms of race since 1960, but today, whites are still the majority, at about 63 percent. The tipping point for this majority will come sometime after 2040, and by 2060, whites will be just 43 percent of the US population. Much of that diversification will come from a growing Hispanic population, and some from a growth in the Asian population, though the black population is expected to maintain a relatively stable percentage.

Immigration over the last 50 years has a lot to do with the changing racial make-up of the nation. More than 40 million immigrants have arrived since 1965; half of whom have been Hispanic, and 30 percent Asian. By 2050 the US will be about 37 percent immigrants–the largest share in its history. This shift will actually make the US population look more like it did at the dawn of the 20th century, in terms of proportion of immigrants. One immediate consequence of the uptick in immigration since the 1960s is seen in the racial make-up of the Millennial generation–those currently 18-33 years old–who are the most racially diverse generation in American history, at just 60 percent white.

Increasing diversification and shifts in attitudes about interracial coupling and marriage are also changing the racial make-up of the nation, and forcing the obsolescence of long-standing racial categories we use to mark difference among us. Showing a sharp increase from just 3 percent in 1960, today 1 in 6 of those getting married are partnering with someone of another race. Data show that those among Asian and Hispanic populations are more likely to “marry out,” while 1 in 6 among blacks, and 1 in 10 among whites do the same.

All of this points to a nation that will look, think, and behave rather differently in the not so distant future, and suggests that major shifts in politics and public policy are on the horizon. 

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