US ethnic minority population to rival whites

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The ingredients of the melting pot that is the United States are set to change dramatically over the coming decades, according to new projections for the US Census Bureau. And the resulting broth will look a lot less white than it does today.

The new report suggests that by 2005 American whites will barely be the majority in the country, with the so-called minority groups catching up fast. Leading the race are Hispanics and Asians, which are expected to triple in size.

Today, those designated as non-Hispanic whites in the US constitute about 69 per cent of the population. Hence, everyone else by default belongs to an ethnic minority. But according to these latest figures, their share will fall to 50.1 per cent in 2005.

A striking feature of the study is the expected explosion of the Hispanic component of American society. For now, Hispanics make up about 12 per cent of the US population. But their numbers will increase dramatically by 2005 to take up 24 per cent of the pie.

"This kind of data pushes us to think about the country in different ways, and how we define America," said Sonia Perez, the vice president of research for the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest advocacy group for Hispanics.

The new picture will have a growing impact on the politics of the country. Hispanic groups will expect to gain greater representation in government and more attention from the country's leaders.

More than half of the Hispanics in America were born in the country and speak English as their first language so, insome ways, the projections are based on assumptions that are more complicated than they appear. Some experts pointed out, for example, that among the English-speaking Hispanics, there may be a large number who will no longer consider themselves as such but rather see themselves as simply white.

Altogether, meanwhile, Americans can expect more crowded conditions in their land. Over the same period, the country's population is expected to balloon by 50 per cent, to reach 450 million by the middle of the century.

At the same time, the US is set to become considerably more grey. By 2050, 5 per cent of the country will be 85 or older, compared with 1.5 per cent now. And 21 per cent of the country will be 65 or older, compared with 12 per cent today.

"This poses interesting challenges. Institutions are going to be transformed - and Social Security is the obvious one," commented Dr Martha Farnsworth Riche, a former Census Bureau director. She pointed to education and health care as other affected areas.