Opinion

Are You Ready for the New ‘America the Beautiful’?

Coke and Cheerios Super Bowl ads nail our country’s changing demographics, and hint at policies that can ease student debt and help seniors.

Coke's ads feature nine girls singing "America the Beautiful" in various languages, including (clockwise from top left) Leilani (Tagalog), Sushmitha (Hindi), Ming (Mandarin), and Kristi (Keres). Other versions arein Hebrew, Arabic, Sengalese-French, and English.
National Journal
Donna Butts
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Donna Butts
Feb. 7, 2014, 4:02 a.m.

Who­ever thought “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful” and Cheeri­os could be so con­tro­ver­sial?

While a puppy and a horse won the hearts of Su­per Bowl view­ers, a grow­ing biracial fam­ily ex­plained through Cheeri­os and a fa­mil­i­ar song sung in vari­ous lan­guages ig­nited a con­ver­sa­tion.

Donna Butts is ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Gen­er­a­tions United, a Wash­ing­ton-based mem­ber­ship or­gan­iz­a­tion of more than 100 groups that seek to im­prove the lives of chil­dren, youth, and older people through in­tergen­er­a­tion­al strategies, pro­grams, and pub­lic policies. (Cour­tesy photo)Wake up and smell the demo­graph­ics. Amer­ica, are you open?

To try to find out, Gen­er­a­tions United and the Gen­er­a­tions Ini­ti­at­ive com­mis­sioned a sur­vey, en­gaged thought lead­ers and emer­ging ex­perts, and to­geth­er in Decem­ber re­leased the re­port “Out of Many One: Unit­ing the Chan­ging Faces of Amer­ica.”

Our pub­lic-opin­ion sur­vey, con­duc­ted by Har­ris In­ter­act­ive, found that Amer­ic­ans as a whole are aware of the chan­ging age and race demo­graph­ics in the U.S., and they are gen­er­ally ac­cept­ing of them. In fact 66 per­cent agree they are op­tim­ist­ic about the op­por­tun­it­ies presen­ted by the chan­ging makeup of our com­munit­ies.

While young­er re­spond­ents were more likely to see the changes as pos­it­ive com­pared with older re­spond­ents, the vast ma­jor­ity across gen­er­a­tions and races re­por­ted they were pos­it­ive or at least neut­ral about the changes. This sug­gests an en­vir­on­ment which is open and ripe for policies to foster con­nec­tions across age and race.

Our sur­vey find­ings would help ex­plain why the Twit­ter ex­plo­sion that erup­ted around Coke’s “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful” com­mer­cial was so heated.

There were some pretty petty tweets, but even more praised the sen­ti­ment the sing­ers con­veyed and the risk the com­pany took. Many people said they were moved by the faces and scen­ari­os, all of which touch on our coun­try’s power­ful found­ing nar­rat­ive: E pluribus un­um — “Out of many, one.”

Throughout our his­tory, our com­ing to­geth­er as one Amer­ica across race, age, and oth­er dif­fer­ences has made our na­tion stronger. The changes we face today push this nar­rat­ive like nev­er be­fore. The ques­tion is, are you open?

What’s changed?

First, we’re liv­ing longer and health­i­er. By 2043, one in five U.S. res­id­ents will be 65 or older. What a won­der­ful wealth of un­tapped hu­man cap­it­al as­set, an as­set we can and should en­gage be­gin­ning today.

Second, we’re more ra­cially and eth­nic­ally di­verse. By 2042 more than half of the na­tion will be people of col­or.

Taken to­geth­er, there is a grow­ing race and age gap. Today more than half of Amer­ic­ans un­der 5 are people of col­or, com­pared with less than one in five Amer­ic­ans older than 65.

Un­like oth­er coun­tries, we are age-ad­vant­aged. Our young pop­u­la­tion will con­tin­ue to grow for dec­ades to come. We must, however, be sure to make the prop­er in­vest­ments so our young people have healthy be­gin­nings and flour­ish aca­dem­ic­ally.

In our re­port, we chal­lenged the ex­perts to use an in­tergen­er­a­tion­al lens, one that val­ues all ages, and take a fresh look at is­sues fa­cing our coun­try. Could they come up with dis­rupt­ive ideas that might unite gen­er­a­tions and strengthen our com­munit­ies? The res­ults were thought-pro­vok­ing.

For ex­ample, take aging-in-place and the stu­dent-debt crisis.

Most people want to age in the same com­munit­ies where they cur­rently reside. It’s health­i­er and a more cost-ef­fect­ive way to sup­port older adults who can live in­de­pend­ently with some as­sist­ance.

At the same time, young people are burdened by huge stu­dent debt that threatens to in­hib­it them for years to come.

Our re­com­mend­a­tion? En­cour­age “home share” agree­ments that re­duce stu­dent loans in ex­change for stu­dents tak­ing on tasks that en­able older adults to age in place.

When the di­verse voices of our people were raised to­geth­er in a com­mer­cial, “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful” was pitch-per­fect. In any lan­guage it’s a mov­ing song, a test­a­ment to the in­cred­ible strength of our coun­try. A coun­try made stronger by its di­verse people. Are you open?

The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic, and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion. Email us.

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