The Coming of the Minority Majority

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When predicting a presidential election, it's "as Missouri goes, so goes the nation." But for national trends, it's usually California playing the bellwether. And in California, the most populous state in the union with 33 million people, minorities are a minority no more.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest tally, non-Hispanic whites' share of California's population dropped to 49.9 percent some time last year. Over the past decade, their number has also declined, while immigration and good old-fashioned reproduction has boosted the number of Latinos by 35 percent in the past decade to 10.5 million and the Asian and Pacific Islander population by 36 percent to some 5 million. Blacks — who in California are a minority even among minorities — were nearly level at 2.2 million.

The rest of America doesn't yet look like California. But it will. According to Census projections, Latinos will surpass non-Hispanic blacks as the majority minority as soon as 2002, at which point they'll make up 12.4 percent of the population. Fifty years from now, Latinos will make up nearly a quarter of the population, while blacks will have increased only to a 13.2 share.

And by 2060, according to the projections, the U.S. will have gone the way of California. Non-Hispanic whites will make up 49.6 of Americans, with Hispanics at 26.6 percent, non-Hispanic blacks at 13.3 percent, and Asians and Pacific Islanders at nearly 10 percent.

So, will this change the way the shots are called in America?

If the trends of the past few years are indicative, not much. Today, the top 1 percent of Americans control 38 percent of the household wealth, and the top 20 percent control 83 percent — figures that have both increased in the past decade. And you can bet that those groups look more like Salt Lake City than Los Angeles. White is disproportionately the color of Congress, the Supreme Court and, most important, the corporate boardroom. The 29 percent of assembled minorities are, in broad strokes, the lower classes — earning less, going to prison more.

Not that, for the immigrant class, there isn't reason to hope — certainly the Italian, Irish and Polish newcomers of a century ago have joined the American elite to some degree, and perhaps Latinos, Asians and blacks can expect the same. Of course, the Italians, Irish and Polish looked a lot more like the elites that were already in place, and for America to be vertically colorblind, it may just take the "browning of America," by generations of inter-marriage, that Tiger Woods embodies and will occasionally talk about.

Or perhaps shining rhetoric will lead the way. "It is my hope that we can all see our state's diversity as a cause for celebration and not consternation," said Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D), California's highest-ranking Latino official, of his state's demographic milestone. "If there's no majorities, then there's no minorities. Maybe now we'll all be able to call each other Californians."

Demographers now say the advent, in sheer numbers, of minorities in general and Latinos in particular, will take place mostly where it always has: on the coasts, on the borders, and in urban centers where cheap labor and ethnic diversity is most welcomed. Just as California leads America, Los Angeles — mottled population, rich white minority — may be the future of places like the urban centers of the Northeast, Florida, Texas and Washington, D.C.

"Melting pot regions will become increasingly young, multiethnic and culturally vibrant," William Frey, a demographer with the University of Michigan and the Milken Institute in Los Angeles, told the Washington Post. "Heartland regions," says Frey. "will become older, more staid and less ethnically diverse."

Doesn't sound like Missouri's legendary bellwether status is built to last. George P. Bush (campaign slogan: "I was one of 'the little brown ones'") will no doubt give the Show-Me State a pass when he runs in 2024.