This nation of immigrants is taking on a different complexion—literally. By 2042, racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the U.S. population, demographers predict. The bulge has begun: In last year’s census, people of color—blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians—accounted for nearly 47 percent of everyone under 18. Already, a white-bread nation and its mass-market commerce are fading.
This edition of The Next Economy, a quarterly supplement produced jointly by The Atlantic and National Journal, explores the economic implications of the United States as a “world nation.” In the cover story, our intrepid business reporter Nancy Cook searches for the emerging Microsoft of an ethnic economy and winds up in Univision’s Miami studios. The Spanish-language television network, which recently surpassed CBS and NBC among viewers ages 18 to 34, has ambitions to combine entertainment and news with an increasingly political presence in hopes of empowering the nation’s Latinos (and, presumably, itself). As such, it’s the model for how a business can thrive in a majority-minority nation.
It’s the scope of the changes ahead that is so startling. Check out the dramatic map to understand its geographical reach: In nearly a tenth of the nation’s counties—including some you wouldn’t expect—minorities already outnumber non-Hispanic whites. In many more, their economic presence is being felt. Along the high-tech corridor in Northern Virginia, for instance, Derek Thompson finds an ingathering of entrepreneurs from India who’ve created a Silicon Valley of the East by helping one another along. Alina Tugend chats up the marketing strategists who are searching for routes into black and Latino consumers’ hearts—well, their wallets.
But hold on a sec: A premise behind this pursuit of markets of a different hue is that demographic power is tantamount to economic power. Yet it isn’t. Kai Wright examines the evidence and argues that, despite gains in income and education, blacks and Latinos are getting left behind. They missed out on the golden postwar era in which government and industry created a middle class; now, they lag behind in amassing the wealth that provides a feeling of economic security.
However the nation’s demographic changes play out, one thing seems sure: It won’t be pretty. Ronald Brownstein prophesies decades of American political strife between minority youth who want the government to do more for them and white baby boomers resistant to paying higher taxes to fund it. Whether the result is political impasse or social explosion—or both—rest assured that our children and grandchildren will inhabit a worldlier nation than we do.
This article appears in the June 2, 2011 edition of National Journal Magazine.