Sustaining Prosperity Amidst Shifts in Urban Demographics

The 2010 U.S. Census reveals an interesting juxtaposition between a young minority population and a maturing white population. Photo by Owls Flight Photography.

The demographics of a city are the ultimate determinant in the kinds of services it provides. Services like transportation and affordable housing take shape based on the individuals and families that receive them. As we’ve written about before, a city with a growing population must therefore offer the kinds of services that will sustain a healthy economy and a functioning society based on its own demographics.

We’ve written about the concept of Latino New Urbanism, a way of understanding community, public spaces and neighborhoods by acknowledging the preferences and culture of Latino immigrants, which, in many cases, are the majority. Los Angeles, in particular, has programs that integrate immigrant bike commuters, for example, into the city’s bike culture and planning efforts. We’ve also covered the importance of demographic data in setting policy for metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C, where immigrant populations have been shown to use sustainable transportation more than the native-born population.

In a panel discussion today, the Urban Institute addressed the rapidly changing demographics of the nation and the services that must follow to maintain a well-functioning community. The fascinating panel discussion was an impressive assembly of experts in the fields of demography, urban planning, law enforcement and labor. The panelists included:

Roy Austin, deputy assistant attorney general within the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice

Ajay Chaudry, senior fellow at the Center on Labor, Human Services and Population of the Urban Institute

Henry Cisneros, executive chairman of CityView and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; also a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas

William Frey, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program of Brookings Institution

Dowell Myers, professor and director of Population Dynamics Research Group at the University of Southern California

Margery Austin Turner, vice president for research at Urban Institute (moderator)

Turner started the discussion by explaining that although immigration is a nationwide trend, it plays out differently from one metropolitan area to another. She emphasized the importance of understanding the variations, which will ultimately shape and determine policy decisions that best serve individual communities and the nation.


William Frey provided surprising statistics from the 2010 Census. He revealed that the juxtaposition of a young, growing minority population with a maturing white population is not what he expected. Frey explained that 55 percent of the growth in population in the last decade had to do with the Hispanic community, and only 8 percent had to do with whites. According to Frey’s analysis, the median age for whites is 41, while it is 27 for Hispanics and 20 for multiracial people. (Read our previous post on “bright flight” to learn more about how “America’s suburbs are more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population, while younger, educated whites move to cities for better jobs and shorter commutes.”)

Frey continued to explain that the under-18 population experienced a decline in whites between 2000 and 2010—a decrease of 4.3 million people. “We would not have had any gains in our child population if it weren’t for Hispanics and Asians and other groups,” Frey explained. Frey added that there is a decline in the number of African American children, as well. In Texas, for example, 95 percent of the child population is of Hispanic descent.

As for the infant population, which describes children under the age of one, 49.8 percent are minorities. Even more interestingly, there has only been a small increase in child population in the last decade—about 2.6 percent. This small growth is especially interesting when considering the aging Baby Boomer generation. Younger minorities are countering an aging white population.

According to Frey, 23 states showed absolute declines in their child populations. Areas like the Great Lakes, upper industrial states, New England, Louisiana and Alabama are among those 23 states.

These statistics are especially intriguing in terms of the labor force. If current trends continue, population projections for the next decade show that there will be a decline of five million whites while there is an increase of 10 million Hispanics.


These numbers also tell an awakening story in terms of poverty. And as we’ve explained before, poor, socially excluded groups often suffer the most from things like public transit cuts. Frey explains that 37 percent of children in poverty are Hispanics. In fact, he explains, Hispanics dominated the child poverty ratings for the past three years. This, Frey adds, will have an enormous impact on the way we shape our policies in education, social services, medical services and community institutions. This is interesting from a mobility point of view. We recently wrote about transit accessibility of low-income families in metropolitan regions and the struggle of cities to meet the mobility needs of underprivileged communities. How will the shift in demographics and the failure of cities to provide the necessary services shape our economy and our future?

Ajay Chaudry verified Frey’s findings and confirmed that there is an enormous growth in the population of children of immigrants, which are leading to heterogeneous metropolitan areas. Although minority populations mostly live in urban-centric states like California, New York and Florida, there is visible population growth in every large metropolitan region. In fact, Chaudry explained that there are 35 metropolitan areas where the majority of the child population is minorities. In Denver, for example, three-quarters of the growth in the child population are due to immigrant families.

Dowell Myers believes that immigration is dynamic and that our perception of immigration lags behind reality. And although Myers agrees that there is a generational divide that contributes to perceptions of immigration, he believes that the generational gap is the wrong part of the equation on which to focus our attention. Instead, Myers argues that we should focus our attention to bridging this divide.

With population projections and the reality of diversity in mind, Myers applies the importance of stability and economic viability for immigrants to homeownership. Longer-settled immigrants have advantages in terms of financial stability, Myers infers. When statistics consider the current situation of immigrants who immigrated decades ago, the data reveals that home ownership has sky rocketed. Among those who have been living for 20 years in California, 40 percent own homes. What we are seeing is a disproportionate amount of home sellers who are white and buyers who are minorities. Understanding that these groups do not have separate interests has led Myers to suggest a generational partnership. (When considering immigrant populations, it’s also important to remember the strong link between housing and transport, especially when it comes to affordability and quality of life, which we’ve written about here, here and here.)

Henry Cisneros reflected on Frey’s statistics, saying that the U.S. saw a 27 million increase in population in the last decade of which only 2 million were white. Cisneros further looks at the composition of population growth as it is projected into the future. One, he says, is the sheer scale of growth—130 million more people by 2050. The second is the internal dynamic of that composition. Based on these statistics, Cisneros asserted that present levels of prosperity cannot be sustained without the integration of immigrant populations.

Watch the panel discussion here.

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