Home

You are here

Expanding Age Gap Between Whites and Minorities May Increase U.S. Racial Divide

By Teresa Wiltz
America’s Wire

WASHINGTON—A generation gap in several states between older whites and younger Latinos and African-Americans has race relations experts concerned that age differences in the population are influencing spending and public policy in areas such as education, transportation, immigration and infrastructure.

As the United States rapidly advances toward having a majority-minority population, whites continue to grow older, while --whites are increasingly younger. Evidence is mounting that what has been considered a racial divide in the country is also crystallizing into a generational divide.

Newly released U.S. Census data demonstrate a rapidly widening racial age gap. The median age for white Americans is 41 but is 32 for blacks, 31.6 for Asians and 27 for Latinos. Across the country, 80 percent of senior citizens are white, while nearly half of the nation’s youth are of color. Such significant age disparities, some experts on race relations say, may be having far-reaching implications on resources invested in programs and areas benefiting younger generations.

 

“Where the old don’t see themselves reflected in the young, there’s less investment in the future,” says Manuel Pastor, a professor of geography and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California where he directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) and co-directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.

“Our racial divide has become a generational divide,” Pastor says. “There’s this image of an older generation drawing up the drawbridge just as the younger generation is coming of age in America.”

More important, data show that states with a larger gap between median ages of whites and people of color tend to make fewer investments in social programs that once benefited older generations that were predominantly white, according to a new research project by PERE in conjunction with PolicyLink, a national research and advocacy organization based in Oakland, Calif.

For instance, Pastor says states with significant age gaps between white and nonwhite populations tend to spend the least on education and public transportation.

In Arizona, the median age for whites is 43 compared with 25 for Latinos, who comprise 31 percent of the state’s population. On per-pupil spending for education, census data show that Arizona ranks 49th among the states and the District of Columbia. In terms of spending on transportation, the state is in the bottom quarter of all states, according to Dominique Apollon, research director at the Applied Research Center, which has offices in New York, Chicago and Oakland.

“States that have the biggest age divide like Arizona really become ground zero for the racial generation gap,” says Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink. “Places that don’t invest in the future will not be competitive in the future.”

To illustrate her point, Blackwell cites California and Mississippi. Through slavery and restrictive Jim Crow laws, she says, Mississippi consistently underinvested in the black community. Today, Blackwell says, it consistently ranks on or near in the bottom in terms of education spending and has the nation’s infant mortality rate. Forty is the median age for whites in Mississippi, 29 for blacks and 25 for Latinos, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In California, public policy priorities have changed as the white population has aged. In the 1950s, when white families arrived from the Midwest in search of jobs, California built the nation’s best educational system. There were generous investments in the state’s infrastructure and programs to help families become homeowners. The state became a poster child for the benefits of public sector spending.

Today, California has a considerable age gap between white and nonwhite residents. The median age for whites is 43, for blacks 34 and for Latinos 27, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Furthermore, Blackwell says children of color comprise 70 percent of the state’s 18-and-under population while 60 percent of its over-65 population is white.

Beset with budget issues, California now hovers in the lower rungs of per-child spending on education, ranking 43rd nationally. It also ranks in the bottom quarter of all states in transportation funding, according to the Applied Research Center.

“You’re starting to see the same approach that held back states like Mississippi holding back states like California,” Blackwell says. “California is the harbinger. Mississippi should have been the lesson.”

Still, questions have been raised about whether a relationship exists between racial age gaps and public sector spending. “I’m a little skeptical” about whether it is a national trend, Apollon says. Some state spending levels, he says, may be related to conservative philosophies toward government spending.

Still, Apollon says, “there is certainly a fear of the changing demographic amongst a small minority of the country, and that minority tends to be whites and it tends to be slightly older.”

According to demographer William H. Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, generation-gap states like Arizona tend to have “lightning rod issues” such as immigration and undocumented immigrants. Last year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into law the nation’s strictest immigration legislation, which made failure to carry immigration documents a crime.

The law also gave police wide latitude in detaining anyone they suspected of being an illegal immigrant. A federal judge later imposed an injunction on many of the law’s provisions. The state also banned Chicano studies programs in its public schools.

Frey says antipathy toward immigrants is a generational trend, noting the hostility toward Italian and Polish immigrants 100 years ago. Immigration slowed between the 1930s and 1970s, and not until the 1990s did Latin American immigration begin surging. Rapidly changing demographics unnerve many people, he says, adding that baby boomers had not witnessed the immigration wave of the early 1900s.

“What bothers me is politicians use this as a wedge issue,” Frey says, “rather than explaining this [wave of immigration] is part of our history.”

Meanwhile, other people see the disinclination to invest in younger generations as a matter of economics and self-interest. “I personally think it’s class that’s the issue, not ethnicity,” says Joel Kotkin, author of “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.” As older generations age out of the workforce, Kotkin says, they are much less concerned about opportunities for the next generation, regardless of race.

The state of the economy is also having an impact on social spending. “When the economy goes bad, people get scared,” says Michael R. Wenger, senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington. “All of us get scared unless we’re Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. . . . We want to spend less because we don’t know what’s happening. That kind of fear means that people don’t want to be their brother’s keeper. They are fearful for their own future, and that comes first.”

Anxiety about the future is coupling with unease about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics to affect public policy. “This country has always been seen by white people as a white country,” Wenger says. “So a number of people see that slipping away, so their sense of control is slipping away. “

But Pastor says such fear becomes counterproductive.

“It’s not just kids of color that are hurt when you don’t invest in education,” he says. “It’s young white families that are afraid to move back to the cities because of the schools. We’re really damaging a whole generation of possibilities.”

 

America's Wire Staff

bio_pics_footer_frisby.jpg
Michael K. Frisby
President
bio_pics_footer_nittle.jpg
Nadra Kareem Nittle
Staff Writer
bio_pics_footer_alleyne.jpg
Kimberly N. Alleyne
Editor

Media Outlets

 

More News

When It Comes to Health, Place Matters
Integration Ambassadors: Hartford Area Magnet Schools Provide Integrated Education
Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon Works to Improve Strained Race Relations in Hazleton
Tough Standards, Diversity are Assets for Military
Why the Obama Administration Must Do More To Help Working-class Families on Housing
Interrupting The School-To-Prison Pipeline
Innovative Nebraska Program Brings Diversity To Some Highly Segregated Public Schools
Dr. King’s Unfulfilled Dream of School Integration for America’s Children
Literature Can Help Bridge Racial Divide
America’s Twentieth Century Slavery
Blaming the Victims in Their Own Voices: Phi Delta Kappan Does Disservice to Blacks
Foster Care, Uncertain Futures Loom For Thousands of Immigrant Children
Busy Bees Help to Create Permanent Jobs For Prisoners, Ex-Offenders in Chicago
Shell Oil Presses Supreme Court to Deprive Torture Victims of Justice
Jungleland? New Orleans Community Activist Rejects NY Times Depiction of Ninth Ward
Profiling Black Males, Use of Excessive Force: From Rodney King to Trayvon Martin
Law Enforcement Gaps Leave Native Women Vulnerable to Rape and Domestic Violence
MLK's Leadership Would Be Welcomed Today
U.S. Department of Education Investigating Record Number of Civil Rights Complaints
Health Disparities Cause Financial Burdens for Families, Communities and Health Care System
Experts Attack Manhattan Institute Study Claiming End to Segregation in U.S. Cities
Expanding Age Gap Between Whites and Minorities May Increase U.S. Racial Divide
Educators Alarmed: Black, Latino High School Students Perform at Levels of 30 Years Ago
Minority Female Attorneys Find Happiness as Corporate Counsels
Widespread Bias Continues in America Despite Claims of Post-Racial Society
Black Migration From Cities Changes Political Landscape
Housing Shortage Forces Native Americans to Use FEMA Trailers
Lessons of Jacksonville Mayor’s Race Could Aid President Obama
Study Shows Mortgage Lending to Minorities Drops Significantly as Fewer People of Color Purchase Homes
Latinos Praise Fed Hate Crime Investigations
Documentary on Slavery Spurs Racial Healing
Hospital Closings Jeopardize Care in Poor, Urban Communities
Food Stamp Bans Under Review; Many States Seek Prison Savings
Educators Give Failing Grades to Federal No Child Left Behind Act
Minority Youth Media Consumption May Be Hampering Academic Achievement
Researchers Puzzled by Rising Death Rates for African-American Women in Childbirth
People of Color Needed for Important Genetic Research
Civil Rights Commission Questioned: Does It Have a Purpose?
Loans to Minorities Did Not Cause Housing Foreclosures
Counting Minorities in Rural Prisons Looms as Census Issue
California AG With New Ideas on How to Fight Crime
Young Blacks Unlikely to Rally Behind Democrats
States Easing Restrictions Against Ex-Convicts
Residential Segregation Contributes to Health Disparities for People of Color
Conservatives Blame the Poor for Being Poor
Tim Wise : White Crusader Against Racism in America
In Q & A, Shirley J. Wilcher Says Affirmative Action Is Still Needed
Black Males Missing From College Campuses

Report on Media Coverage of Structural Racism

Login or Register to Comment

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com D7 ver.1.1