For the first time in the history of the country’s census taking, the number of white people in the United States is widely expected to show a decline when the first racial breakdowns from the 2020 Census are reported this week.
For five years now, the US Census Bureau’s annual updates of the 2010 Census have estimated that the nation’s white population is shrinking, and all population growth has been from people of color.
The new census data, planned for release on Aug. 12, will show definitively how the ethnic, racial, and voting-age makeup of neighborhoods shifted over the past decade, based on the national house-to-house canvass last year. It is the data most state legislatures and local governments use to redraw political districts for the next 10 years.
If the white decline is confirmed by the new data, that benchmark will have come about eight years earlier than previously projected, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
‘’Twenty years ago if you told people this was going to be the case, they wouldn’t have believed you,’’ he said, adding that the opioid epidemic and lower-than-anticipated birthrates among millennials after the Great Recession accelerated the white population’s decline. ‘’The country is changing dramatically.’’
The United States is also expected to have passed two other milestones on its way to becoming a majority-minority society in a few decades: For the first time ever, the portion of white people could dip below 60 percent and the under-18 population is likely to be majority non-white.
In April, 2020 Census state population totals showed the United States grew by just 7.4 percent in the past decade, more slowly than any decade except the 1930s since census-taking started in 1790. The states with the most growth were in the West and the South, which have seen an influx of people moving in from other countries and other states.
Between the comprehensive census counts each decade, the Census Bureau updates population numbers with estimates based on such changes as births, deaths, and immigration. The 2020 Census head count may turn out to show different results, but meanwhile recent estimates are shaping expectations.
Estimates from 2016 to 2020 show that all of the country’s population growth during that period came from increases in people of color. The largest and most steady gains were among Hispanics, who have doubled their population share over the past three decades to almost 20 percent and who are believed to account for half of the nation’s growth since 2010. They are expected to drive about half the growth in more than a dozen states, including Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Asian people, who made up about 3 percent of the population in 1990, could double that in the 2020 Census, while the Black population’s share is likely to hold steady at around 12.5 percent.
Whites are expected to account for over half the growth in only five states, plus the District of Columbia. In 26 states, the number of whites has declined, according to bureau estimates. Up to six states and the District could have majorities of people of color, including Nevada and Maryland, which — if they pass that marker — will have done so in just the past decade.
The trend is projected to continue, with whites falling below 50 percent nationally around 2045, Frey said, adding that, at that point, there will be no racial majority in the country. Between 2015 and 2060, the Hispanic and Asian populations are expected to approximately double in size, and the multiracial population could triple due to both immigration and births.
The US population is also becoming older than it used to be: In 31 states, the population of people under 18 is estimated to have declined since 2010.
The changes look different in various geographic areas. Some states will remain Whiter and continue to lose population as their residents age and die or move away, while others will grow and become increasingly ethnically and racially diverse.
The shifts signal what Frey calls a ‘’cultural generation gap,’’ with older generations that are much whiter than younger ones. Racial minorities will drive all the growth in the US labor force as white baby boomers retire and will make the difference between growth and decline in rural and suburban areas. The year 2011 was the first time more non-white babies were born than white babies, and for the past two decades, the growth of the nation’s child population has been due entirely to Hispanic, Asian, and multiracial people.
Their needs will be juxtaposed against — and in some cases seen as competing with — the needs of older generations: for example, public spending on senior services versus schools or English-language classes or job training.