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Latino population growth in U.S. reshaping policies, civil rights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

An unprecedented decline in the number of U.S. whites and the fast growth of Latinos are blurring traditional black-white color lines. Furthermore, the growing Latino population is also testing the limits of civil rights laws and reshaping political alliances. The demographic shift was highlighted in last November's re-election of President Barack Obama, the first black president, despite a historically low percentage of white supporters.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In response, the Supreme Court is deciding cases this term on affirmative action and voting rights that could redefine race and equality in the U.S. Current census data predict that non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority in the next generation, somewhere around the year 2043.

America's progress to a white minority has never occurred in its 237-year history, in spite of being a nation characterized by immigrants. The U.S. will be the first among the world's major post-industrial societies to reach that point. Brazil, a developing nation, has crossed the threshold to "majority-minority" status; a few cities in France and England are near, if not past that point.

There are many uncertain factors at work ongoing in American race relations.

Social mobility remains among the worlds lowest for blacks in Brazil, while wealth is concentrated among whites at the top. In France, race is not recorded on government census forms and people share a unified Gallic identity, yet high levels of racial discrimination persist.

"The American experience has always been a story of color. In the 20th century it was a story of the black-white line. In the 21st century we are moving into a new off-white moment," Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a global expert on immigration and dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies says.

"Numerically, the U.S. is being transformed. The question now is whether our institutions are being transformed," he said.

A modern wave of U.S. newcomers from Latin America and Asia are behind these new figures. Their annual inflow of 650,000 people since 1965, at a rate that's grown in recent years, surpasses the pace of the last great immigration wave a century ago. Irish, Germans, Italians and Jewish immigrants from Europe made the gateway of Ellis Island, N.Y., an immigrant landmark, symbolizing freedom, liberty and the American dream.

An equal factor is today's aging white population, mostly baby boomers, whose coming wave of retirements will create a need for first and second-generation immigrants to help take their place in the workforce.

More figures contributing to this trend is more U.S. babies are now born to minorities than whites, a milestone reached last year. In addition, more than 45 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are minorities. The Census Bureau projects that in five years the number of nonwhite children will surpass 50 percent.

The District of Columbia, Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas have minority populations greater than 50 percent. By 2020, eight more states are projected to join the list: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey and New York. Latinos already outnumber whites in New Mexico; California will tip to a Latino plurality next year.

It's predicted that by 2039, racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the U.S. working-age population, helping to support a disproportionately elderly white population through Social Security and other payroll taxes.

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