What Caused the Minority Baby Boom?

In 2011, the percentage of non-white newborns rose to 50.4% while non-Hispanic whites fell to 49.6%.  According to U.S. Census Bureau data, by the year 2042, the minority population in the United States will exceed the white non-Hispanic population. This demographic shift will present implications for the political/economic landscape, the nature of the American workforce, the nation’s sense of self and identity, as well as other factors. 

However, before the anti-immigrant groups in the United States propagandize this to back their inward-looking exclusionary rhetoric, this emergence of a new majority should be unpacked and understood.

First, the immigration waves that have engulfed richer countries not just in the west but in Asia and the Middle East highlight the fact that globalization comes home to roost. Since the post-war years, the Unites States and its allies have stressed the opening of markets as the guaranteed recipe for economic growth. Markets as the center of human interaction have shortened the linkages that connect the world, and intensified the velocity of information sharing which has in turn led to the rapid mass movement of people. However, economic pressures brought about by globalization in these countries have also contributed to the mass human flight to richer countries like the U.S. and the U.K. Nonetheless, while globalization-induced migration has been arguably detrimental to the future of developing countries, it has aided economic growth in the developed countries, particularly the United States, by providing not only cheap labor but invaluable human capital.  While most developed countries adopted restrictionist immigration policies from the 1970s and onwards, the opening of markets around the world inevitably intensified human mobility from the developing world to the industrialized countries.

Second: proxy wars. Two military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and failure to use appropriate humanitarian intervention in senseless civil conflicts have all contributed to increasing refugee outflows. Where do we think these people are seeking asylum? According to the UNHCR, in the year 2011 the industrialized world witnessed a 20% increase in new asylum applications compared to 2010 when the U.S. was the largest single recipient of new asylum applications (credit to the Arab Spring). The convention also added that international migrants, from a comparative perspective, have increased by some 59 million people over the last 20 years. While these are outlier factors in the broader scheme of things, they help explain the rising minority population in developed countries such as the United States.

Market openness, conflicts, and poor economic conditions have intensified the movement of people to industrialized countries. What does this mean for the United States where minority births have now surpassed white births? The U.S. will not lose its economic and political supremacy as a result of this demographic shift. Let’s not forget that the majority of wealth in America is concentrated in the hands of a few elite whites and a population shift does not mean that there will be a shit in financial power. It will however, provide a larger labor pool for the rich to exploit.  Nonetheless, in order to maintain its competitiveness and productivity and a highly skilled workforce, American politicians will have to improve the country's record in educating minorities. The proper policies will have to be implemented to ensure that the emerging minority population is well prepared to fill  the positions that in previous generation, were mostly occupied by whites.

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Sally Nnamani

International Development grad student at The New School. Interests: immigration policy, sustainable development, private sector development, public-private partnerships. Post-Rio+20 intern at International Chamber of Commerce. Sports lover - basketball, track & field, gymnastics oh and Lebron James!!

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