How Is America Changing?

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The United States is rapidly changing as its citizens age and diversify. What kind of issues will the country face as its demographics shift?

The Pew Research Center’s The Next America analyzes how the country’s demographics have shifted and will continue to shift, and how those changes will affect the socio-political landscape. Age and race are two of the big topics — as the generational gap widens and diversity increases. According to Pew, the U.S. was 85% white in 1960, and by 2060, the country will only be 43% white. And that divide isn’t anywhere close to black and white: “Our intricate new racial tapestry is being woven by the more than 40 million immigrants who have arrived since 1965, about half of them Hispanics and nearly three-in-ten Asians,” Pew writes.

One of the ways this “racial tapestry” is becoming even more blended is an increase in marriage between people of different racial backgrounds. Mark Lopez, director of Hispanic Research for Pew, says that 15% of newlywed couples marry outside their racial group. “Intermarriage is playing a big role in changing some of our views of ethnicity,” he said. As interracial marriage increases in regularity, our natural perception of mixed race people is improving, hopefully erasing stigma and prejudices.

But, of course, the main reason for the changing racial demographics is immigration. By 2050, the U.S.’s immigrant population (immigrants and their children) will make up 37% of the country, the highest share in history. And where they’re coming from is very different than 100 years ago. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 90% of immigrants were from Europe; now only about 12% are from Europe.

 

And age is a changing landscape as well. Longer lifespans and lower birthrates have led to an unbalanced — or at least, unfamiliar — generational makeup, as, by 2060, there will be nearly as many Americans older than 85 as there are younger than 5.

But what does that mean for the country?

The generational gap is already showing its colors in politics. According to Pew, the past few elections have shown the young/old partisan voting gap as the largest since 1972 — when the voting age was lowered to 18. About 60% of young voters supported Barack Obama in 2012, while only 47% of those in the age ranges of their parents (45 to 64) and 44% of their grandparents (65 and older) did.

The classic concept of young people as liberals and older folks as conservatives has been magnified in recent years, as social issues have taken the limelight. Legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage, for example, are both issues that see heavy support from youth. Almost 70% of millennials support same-sex marriage, while only 48% of baby boomers and 38% of the silent generation (people born during the Great Depression and World War II) do.

The racial make-up of the country also plays a big part in politics. In 2012, about 60% of white voters supported Republican candidate Mitt Romney, while nearly 90% of black voters supported Obama, who also won over more than 70% of the Asian-American and Hispanic vote.

These changes in demographics also have huge economic impacts. As many millennials believe social security won’t be around for them, the Pew Research Center acknowledges that the “math” used to build the financial safety net for the older population was based on the demographics that existed in the 20th century — and don’t necessarily fit those of the 21st.

Five years after social security started (1945) there were 42 workers for every beneficiary. In 1950, the ratio was 16 to one, and by 2010 there were only three workers for each person in retirement. That safety net is getting used up and not replaced, with about 10,000 Baby Boomers will be going on Social Security and Medicare every day between now and 2030. So when you see that half of millennials believe they’ll get no social security benefits, it kind of makes sense why. The “new us” will have to come up with some new math.

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