CNN Senior National Editor
“If I were an aging white person,” Ron Crouch begins provocatively, “I’d want to find some young black and Hispanic families and ask them how they’re doing because those young Hispanics and blacks will be taking my butt down the road” as they become the taxpayers and leaders of an increasingly multi-cultural America.
Age 62, Crouch is an aging white person and the road he’s talking about is his future and that of the 78 million baby boomers.
Crouch, director of the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville, travels the country speaking on trends in the American population. He fires machine-gun like bursts of population data as he talks about the years ahead. “The middle-aging, not the aging, of our population is now taking place. The aging of our population is a decade or more off,” says Crouch, explaining how elderly living longer, more than birth rates, will fuel growth in years ago come.
The white population is aging and will decline as a percentage of the population. Projections are that by 2023 there will be no racial majority among those 18-years-old and younger and that by 2042 there will be no racial majority in the country. The Latino population is increasing significantly (much faster than African-Americans), with a large percentage of young. At 15 percent, Latinos today are the largest minority group. By 2040, one of every four Americans likely will have Latino roots on their family tree.
Estimates vary, but over time more workers will leave the workforce than there will be new workers to replace them. That means fewer workers paying fewer taxes to support everything from public services to Social Security. “We need those young Hispanic workers down the road to take care of an older white population,” Crouch says.
"It's in the self-interest of the older generation to have immigrants here," Dowell Myers, an urban planning and demography professor at the University of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times last year. "Even if you don’t like it, you have to ask the question: Who's going to fill your jobs, buy your homes and pay the taxes for old-age support programs?" Myers said then.
Now, Myers writes, boomers forced by the slumping economy to work extra years “will soften the blow of the anticipated baby boomer retirements, had they all abandoned the labor force on schedule. It also buys us a little more time to get the next generation ready to buy the boomers' homes. It is not so much newly-arrived immigrants who we will count on for help as it is the children of immigrants who are here today.”
Marta Tienda, a professor of both demographics and of sociology/public affairs at Princeton University, agrees that “the youthful Hispanic population represents a potential demographic dividend not available to other industrialized countries that are experiencing population decline,” but cautions, “Thus, immigrant labor can help to support the costs of an aging population, but their potential contributions depend on earnings capacity, which in turn depends on educational investments.”
Despite gains in the past 20 years, Latinos continue to lag behind whites in math and reading and trail in the rates at which they attend college.
Luis Lopez knows the struggle. He entered the U.S. illegally at age 15 with his family (later becoming citizens in an amnesty program). Teachers at Benjamin Franklin High School in Highland Park, Calif., saw promise and propelled him further. Lopez graduated from college and worked a series of jobs in the Los Angeles public schools. Four years ago, he came home to Ben Franklin, whose 2,700 students are 91 percent Latino. As principal he has guided the school to improved academic performance.
Lopez agrees with Crouch. “A white person should find out how these young, Hispanic kids are thinking but not so that he/she can react or defend him/herself from them. They need to know about these kids because one way or the other they will grow up to be part of our country, culture, and every day life. It is imperative that not only do we know what they are thinking but that their thinking is guided, and supported so that they are not only full members but positively contributing members of our country,” he says.
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