The full spectrum
White people are dwindling as a percentage of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. The latest numbers show that the number of white people who are dying now exceeds the number being born.
Also, as of July 2012, whites made up a minority of babies. The Census Bureau reports that this year or the next whites will make up a minority of children under 5, and within five years they will be a minority among those under 18.
Coinciding with this trend is a decline in the population of rural America. Retirees have become less inclined to retire to the country, in part because the bad economy has made it harder for people to afford a country place and also because cities have become more attractive.
The decline in the number of whites is caused in part by the aging of the baby boom generation, which is beginning to die off. The oldest baby boomers are now in their mid-60s. Also, the persistence of immigration from nonwhite regions continues to bolster populations of Latinos, Asians and Africans.
Vermont remains a mostly white state, and though it has seen a small influx of nonwhites, the percentages remain tiny. The state is 95.5 percent white, compared with 78.1 percent for the nation as a whole. Vermont is 1.1 percent black and 1.6 percent Hispanic. Those reporting two or more races make up 1.7 percent of the whole.
Vermont is also older than the nation as a whole. The population 65 and older is 15 percent, compared with 13.3 for the nation. Five percent of Vermonters are under 5 years old, compared with 6.5 percent of the U.S. population.
It was an influx of younger people in the 1960s and 1970s that led to talk of a rural renaissance and much business development and cultural change. But the new numbers, combined with the general decline in rural populations, suggest that Vermont cannot count on rapid population growth in the foreseeable future.
California is already a minority white state, and the nation as a whole is heading in that direction. It reminds us that white dominance has been a historical anomaly growing out of the Industrial Revolution, which began in England, spread to continental Europe and fostered the era of colonialism that placed whites in a position of control over vast populations of nonwhites. It couldn’t last.
The United States is a place that, even as it allows for the celebration of Hispanic culture, also nurses in some quarters resentment and fear about shifting cultural tides. These shifts are playing out politically as Congress wrestles with immigration reform and the Republican Party wrestles with how hostile it should allow itself to be to Hispanics. As rural regions and white populations decline, Republican resistance to political progress benefiting a majority of the population is likely to weaken or be overwhelmed by the insistence on the majority that education and other essential services must receive adequate support.
Vermont is not beyond these conflicts. The farmworkers who have become an essential component of our agricultural economy remain threatened by immigration laws that put them at risk of deportation. Here, where multicultural ferment is minimal compared with other areas, Vermonters have been mostly welcoming.
One Vermont family of our acquaintance comprises through marriage an array of family members and in-laws who include white, black, Latino, Native American, Chinese, Japanese, native Hawaiian, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant. It is a virtual United Nations.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing in The Atlantic, says that one advantage of cultural and social diversity is that someone who is used to living among a variety of people who are different is less likely to say something stupid about other people. He was referring to recent benighted comments by a congressman about women. But when your brother-in-law or your neighbor is another race or religion, you may think twice about reflexive ignorance. That is a good thing.