This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

U.S. Demographics are in Transition and We Have to Adjust

The demographic metabolism of the United States has been creating a lot of anxiety over the past several years, ultimately helping to engineer the election of Donald Trump, who ran on the promise of building border walls and ending immigration, especially from non-European countries--essentially a throwback to the discussions in the 1920s that led to the National Origins Quota system that cut off a lot immigration to the country just as the Great Depression was getting under way. For much of the 20th century the United States was dominated demographically by WASPs--white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. But that has changed fairly dramatically over the past few decades--a trend that is bound to continue, as I noted a few days ago, based on the latest Census Bureau projections. The latest National Geographic has a lengthy story detailing the ground-level experience of these changing demographics, focusing especially on the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a place that had been decimated by the loss of coal-mining and factory jobs. 
Hazleton was another former coal mining town slipping into decline until a wave of Latinos arrived. It would not be an overstatement to say a tidal wave. In 2000 Hazleton’s 23,399 residents were 95 percent non-Hispanic white and less than 5 percent Latino. By 2016 Latinos became the majority, composing 52 percent of the population, while the white share plunged to 44 percent.
That dizzying shift is an extreme manifestation of the nation’s changing demographics. The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that non-Hispanic whites will make up less than 50 percent of the population by 2044, a change that almost certainly will recast American race relations and the role and status of white Americans, who have long been a comfortable majority.
In a period bookended by the presidential elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the question of what it means to be white in America has increasingly taken center stage.
Keep in mind that Hazleton came to fame not because the city embraced immigrants, but because it wanted to legislate specifically against undocumented immigrants.
Just over 10 years ago, Hazleton was thrust into the national spotlight when the mayor, now U.S. congressman Lou Barletta, urged the city council to pass a first-of-its-kind ordinance called the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. It set steep penalties for those who hire or rent to undocumented immigrants. It was accompanied by an ordinance that sought to make English the official language of Hazleton. The laws were introduced amid rising cultural tension in the community, which was seeing an influx of Latinos, many moving from New York and New Jersey.
A lawsuit stopped that ordinance from going into effect, buttressed by the testimony of my good friend, Professor Rubèn Rumbaut, who laid out the statistics showing that immigrants--whether undocumented or legal--were far less likely to commit crimes than were U.S.-born residents. 

The point is that no matter what our opinion about them might be, demographic, economic, and social changes are occurring in the United States--indeed the entire world--and there is no immediate end in sight. We have to adjust, no matter how painful we think that might be. That's the world that lies ahead of us.

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