Ethnic and racial minorities will comprise a majority of the nation's population in a little more than a generation, according to new Census Bureau projections, a transformation that is occurring faster than anticipated just a few years ago.
The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.
The main reason for the accelerating change is significantly higher birthrates among immigrants. Another factor is the influx of foreigners, rising from about 1.3 million annually today to more than 2 million a year by midcentury, according to projections based on current immigration policies.
The projections are likely to fuel debates over immigration policy, overpopulation and the changing electorate.
"No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change," said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington.
The latest figures, which are being released today, are predicated on current and historical trends, which can be thrown awry by several variables, including prospective overhauls of immigration policies and sudden increases in refugees.
A decade ago, census demographers estimated that the nation's population, which topped 300 million in 2006, would not surpass 400 million until sometime after midcentury. Now, they are projecting that the population will top 400 million in 2039 and reach 439 million in 2050.
So-called minorities, the Census Bureau projects, will constitute a majority of the nation's children under 18 by 2023 and of working-age Americans by 2039.
For the first time, both the number and the proportion of non-Hispanic whites, who now account for 66 percent of the population, will decline, starting around 2030. By 2050, their share will dip to 46 percent.
Higher mortality rates among older native-born white Americans and higher birthrates among immigrants and their children are already driving ethnic and racial disparities.
"A momentum is built into this as a result of past immigration," said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. "In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, there were more Hispanic immigrants than births. This decade, there are more births than immigrants. Almost regardless of what you assume about future immigration, the country will be more Hispanic and Asian."
With the Census Bureau forecasting even more immigrants, other demographers estimate that the proportion of foreign-born Americans, now about 12 percent, could surpass the 1910 historic high of nearly 15 percent by about 2025 and may reach 20 percent in 2050.
According to the new forecast, by 2050, the number of Hispanic people will nearly triple, to 133 million from 47 million, to account for 30 percent of Americans, compared with 15 percent today.
People who say they are Asian, with their ranks soaring to 41 million from 16 million, will make up more than 9 percent of the population, up from 5 percent.
More than three times as many people are expected to identify themselves as multiracial - 16 million.
The population of people who define themselves as black is projected to rise to 66 million from 41 million, but increase its overall share by barely two percentage points, to 15 percent.
"What's happening now in terms of increasing diversity probably is unprecedented," said Campbell Gibson, a retired census demographer.
Several states, including California and Texas, are already at the point where minorities constitute a majority.