February 4, 2011 | The New York Times | Original Article

In Census, Young Americans Increasingly Diverse

WASHINGTON — Demographers sifting through new population counts released on Thursday by the Census Bureau say the data bring a pattern into sharper focus: Young Americans are far less white than older generations, a shift that demographers say creates a culture gap with far-reaching political and social consequences.

Mississippi, Virginia, New Jersey and Louisiana all had declines in their populations of white residents ages 18 and under, according to the bureau’s first detailed report on the 2010 Census.

That drove declines in the overall white population for the decade in three of the four states. Only Virginia, whose northern suburbs have been growing fast, had a rise.

Growth in the number of white youths slowed sharply in the 1990s, up by just 1 percent in the decade, as the number of white women of childbearing age fell, according to Kenneth M. Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire.

More recently, it has dipped into a decline. The number of whites under the age of 20 fell by 6 percent between 2000 and 2008, Mr. Johnson said, citing countrywide census estimates.

Instead, growth has come from minorities, particularly Hispanics, as more Latino women enter their childbearing years. Blacks, Asians and Hispanics accounted for about 79 percent of the national population growth between 2000 and 2009, Mr. Johnson said.

The result has been a changed American landscape, with whites now a minority of the youth population in 10 states, including Arizona, where tensions over immigration have flared, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

“This is a huge demographic transformation,” Mr. Frey said. “A cultural generation gap is emerging.”

The growing divide between a diverse young population and an aging white population raises some potentially tricky policy questions. Will older whites be willing to allocate money to educate a younger generation that looks less like their own children than ever before? How will a diverse young generation handle growing needs for aging whites?

The rapid change has infused political debates, and they have been noisiest in the states with the largest gaps.

Arizona is the leader, with whites accounting for just 42 percent of its young people, compared with 83 percent of its residents 65 and older, according to Mr. Frey. Over all, the state’s Hispanic population nearly tripled between 1990 and 2009, and is now a third of all residents. Nevada ranks second in the gap between aging whites and diverse youth, Mr. Frey said.

Declines in the youth population over all have occurred twice before in the last century, according to Mr. Frey. First in the 1930s, when the Depression gripped the country, dragging down the birth rate, and then in the 1970s and 1980s, as the baby boomers aged out of childhood and women delayed marriage and went to work.

The current decline is potentially more permanent, he said, because it is related to the aging of the white population, a reality that will not change anytime soon.

According to last year’s census estimates, of the 24 states that gained children in the last decade, whites contributed to the growth in just 8, Mr. Frey said. The highest was Utah, where their share was 43 percent.

Even in Virginia, a largely suburban state whose white adult population rose considerably over the decade, the young white population registered a decline.

In contrast, the number of mixed-race children doubled, Hispanic children doubled, and Asian children were up by more than two-thirds, according to Mr. Johnson.

“Living in the suburbs used to mean white family, two kids, a TV, a garage and a dog,” he said. “Now suburbia is a microcosm of America. It’s multiethnic and multiracial. It tells you where America is going.”