The term "minority," at least as used to describe racial and ethnic groups in the United States, may need to be retired or rethought soon: By the end of this decade, according to Census Bureau projections released Wednesday, no single racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of children under 18. And in about three decades, no single group will constitute a majority of the country as a whole.
As the United States grows more diverse, the Census Bureau reported, it is becoming a "plurality nation."
"The next half century marks key points in continuing trends -- the U.S. will become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority," the bureau's acting director, Thomas L. Mesenbourg, said in a statement.
The new projections -- the first set based on the 2010 Census -- paint a picture of a nation whose post-recession population is growing more slowly than was previously anticipated, where the elderly are expected to make up a growing share of the populace, and that is rapidly becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. All of these trends promise to shape the nation's politics, economics and culture in the decades to come.
The nation's total population is not expected to hit 400 million until 2051, which is 12 years later than the bureau had previously projected, Census Bureau demographer Jennifer Ortman said. The prediction that the nation's population will grow more slowly reflects the bureau's projections that there will be fewer births and fewer immigrants coming to the United States, based on recent trends.
Caring for an aging population, and paying for it, will continue to pose challenges. By 2060, 1 in 5 people in the United States will be 65 or older, the Census projects, up from 1 in 7 now. The share of the population that is between 18 and 64 -- considered working age -- is expected to decline to 56.9 percent in 2060 from 62.7 percent now. In 2056, there are projected for the first time to be more people 65 and older than under 18.
The diversity of the nation's children is increasing even faster than was previously expected, said Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey. "When the 2020 census comes around, we're going to have a majority-minority child population," he said in an interview.
The Census Bureau expects that moment to come in 2018, several years earlier than it had previously predicted. The bureau predicts that by 2043 -- or a year later than it previously projected -- there will be no single majority group in the country as a whole, as the share of non-Hispanic whites falls below 50 percent.
The population of non-Hispanic whites is expected to shrink both as a share of the population and in raw numbers, the bureau predicted: It is projected to peak in 2024 at 199.6 million, and then to fall by nearly 20.6 million through 2060.
The Hispanic population is expected to more than double during that time, to 128.8 million in 2060 from 53.3 million now. In 2060, nearly 1 in 3 residents will be Hispanic, up from about 1 in 6 now. (People who identify themselves as Hispanic may be any race.) The black population is expected to increase to 61.8 million from 41.2 million over the same period, with its share of the population rising slightly. And the Asian population is expected to double, to 34.4 million in 2060 from 15.9 million now, with its share of the population climbing to 8.1 percent from 5.1 percent.