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12.5: The Future of Race and Ethnicity in the United States

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    104104
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    The U.S. racial and ethnic landscape is expected to change dramatically during the next few decades. Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) shows the racial and ethnic distribution in the United States in 2008 and the projected distribution for the year 2050. Whereas about two-thirds of the country in 2008 consisted of whites of European backgrounds, in 2050 only about 46% of the country is expected to be non-Latino white, with Latinos making the greatest gains of all the other racial and ethnic groups. On the other side of the coin, people of color now constitute about one-third of the country but their numbers will increase to about 54% of the country in 2050 (Roberts, 2008).

    This chart shows the racial and ethnic distribution in the United States in 2008 and the projected distribution for the year 2050. Whereas about two-thirds of the country in 2008 consisted of whites of European backgrounds, in 2050 only about 46% of the country is expected to be non-Latino white, with Latinos making the greatest gains of all the other racial and ethnic groups. On the other side of the coin, people of color now constitute about one-third of the country but their numbers will increase to about 54% of the country in 2050

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Racial and Ethnic Composition of the United States, 2008 and 2050 (Projected). (Data from Roberts, S. (2008, August 14). In a generation, minorities may be the U.S. majority. The New York Times, p. A1.)

    Three decades from now, then, whites, the dominant racial group today in terms of power and privilege, will constitute less than half the country. This is also referred to as becoming a majority-minority nation, meaning majority people of color. It is difficult at this early date to predict what difference this demographic shift will mean for racial and ethnic relations in the United States.

    These shifting demographics make it even more urgent that individuals in their daily lives and the local, state, and federal governments in their policies do everything possible to foster mutual understanding and to eliminate individual and institutional discrimination. In the democracy that is America, we must try to do better so that there will truly be “liberty and justice for all.” If not, we are doomed to repeat the experiences of the past.

    Mother and daughter together. The daughter is holding a sign with love on it.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Love! (CC BY-NC 2.0; Peg Hunter via Flickr)

    Conclusion

    As the United States attempts, however haltingly, to reduce racial and ethnic inequality, sociology has much insight to offer in its emphasis on the structural basis for this inequality. This emphasis strongly indicates that racial and ethnic inequality has much less to do with any personal faults of people of color than with the structural obstacles they face, including ongoing discrimination and lack of opportunity. Efforts aimed at such obstacles, then, are in the long run essential to reducing racial and ethnic inequality (Danziger, Reed, & Brown, 2004; Loury, 2003; Syme, 2008).

    Some of these efforts include the following:

    1. Adopt a national “full employment” policy involving federally funded job-training and public-works programs.
    2. Increase federal aid for the working poor, including earned income credits and child care subsidies for those with children.
    3. Increase the federal and state minimum wage to reflect a living wage.
    4. Establish well-funded early-childhood intervention programs.
    5. Improve schooling and increase school funding.
    6. Provide accessible and affordable health care services for individuals and families.
    7. Strengthen affirmative action programs within the limits imposed by court rulings.
    8. Strengthen legal enforcement of existing laws forbidding racial and ethnic discrimination in hiring and promotion.
    9. Strengthen efforts to reduce residential segregation.
    10. Encourage comprehensive criminal justice reform.

    Key Takeaways from Chapter 12

    • A focus on equity driven programs is key to achieving racial and ethnic equality. Equity entails directly addressing barriers to equality while also providing intentional support, specifically to groups who have been historically and systematically disadvantaged.
    • Affirmative action is an equity driven program to provide people of color and women access to jobs and education to make up for past discrimination. Although still in place, legal efforts opposing affirmative action programs have limited their number and scope.
    • Reparations refers to the act of repairing damage and providing restitution for past harms. Reparations in the form of a one time payment was given to Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. Reparations for the African American community is still advocated for today.
    • Themes like crime, competition for jobs, and citizenship status, informed much of the immigration policy during President Trump's term. Reforming immigration policy an important priority for President Biden.
    • It is estimated that the United States will be a majority-minority country by 2050. It is difficult at this early date to predict what difference this demographic shift will mean for racial and ethnic relations.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Works Cited

    • Danziger, S., Reed, D., & Brown, T. (2004). Poverty and prosperity: Prospects for reducing racial/ethnic economic disparities in the United States. Geneva: UNRISD.
    • Loury, G.C. (2003). The Anatomy of Racial Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    • Syme, S.L. (2008). Reducing racial and social-class inequalities in health: The need for a new approach. Health Affairs, 27, 456–459.
    • Roberts, S. (2008, August 14). In a generation, minorities may be the U.S. majority. The New York Times, p. A1.