A Discussion in Two Parts
The news is starting to pop with stories of the way our nation has changed since the last time legions of census takers roamed the cities and fields of America. Politicians and activist have been on the edge of their seats waiting for the redistricting data that will change the political landscape in the next major election. And the leading story is consistently race.
In December, the Census Bureau officially reported the nation’s population was 308,745,538, up from 281.4 million a decade ago. The growth rate for the past decade was 9.7%, the lowest since the Great Depression, with most of the growth occurring in the South and West. Demographers attribute the decline in part to falling birth rates among whites and the slowdown in immigration because of the Great Recession.
Non-Hispanic whites make up roughly 65% of the U.S. population, down from 69% in 2000. Hispanics had a 16% share, compared with 13% a decade ago.
The new engines of growth in America’s population are Hispanics, Asians and other minorities. For the under-18 population — potential voters in the not-too-distant future — minorities accounted for almost all the growth in most U.S. states.
The 2010 Census rearranged the country’s political map, giving more Congressional seats to the South and the West at the expense of the Northeast and the Midwest — changes that will impact elections over the next decade. The figures, destined to reapportion Congressional seats, will influence the landscape for the 2012 presidential race and the makeup of the Electoral College, with Republican-leaning states from the Sun Belt gaining more political influence at the expense of Democratic-leaning Rust Belt states.
According to the new counts, Texas will gain four seats, Florida will gain two, while New York and Ohio each lose two. And Latinos will fight for those seats. Fourteen other states gained or lost one seat. The gainers included Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah; the losers included Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
It is hard to fully comprehend the changes the will come with the shifting demographics. Race is largely a made up concept to manage the geopolitical process in the United States. It is easier to carefully craft domestic policy when you can group citizens into categories. U.S. racial categories have little or no meaning in other parts of the world. Each nation categorizes its citizens for the same handy political purpose, but their definitions of “other” vary drastically from ours. And even ours are being constantly put to the test.
The U.S. Census 2010 made some subtle but powerful changes to the Census 2010 form.It is hard to fully comprehend the changes the will come with the shifting demographics. Race is largely a made up concept to manage the geopolitical process in the United States. It is easier to carefully craft domestic policy when you can group citizens into categories. U.S. racial categories have little or no meaning in other parts of the world. Each nation categorizes its citizens for the same handy political purpose, but their definitions of “other” vary drastically from ours. And even ours are being constantly put to the test.
As a 2010 Census enumerator, a term used to further confuse the frightened people behind the door. I was tasked to cull this information from reluctant participants in a way that would preserve the integrity of the data. I did this in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, my neighborhood, filled with residential hotels and the immigrants from around the world. I was armed with the form in English and Spanish and a chart with many other languages. For the Spanish speaking residents the category Race didn’t make sense in either language. When I pointed to the racial choices they looked at me incredulously without any understanding. Nothing in their day to day experience suggested they were White. No one gave them any White Privilege. How could they be forced to check White on a form? But, I soothed them with the option to make better choices about their Hispanic origins. No Puerto Rican wants to me lumped in with Mexicans. And the Guatemalans and El Salvadoreans were glad that I could write that in box for “another, Latino or Spanish origin.” I worked hard to make sure that Census 2010 reflected the best possible picture of what American has become.
The Census results have sent subtle shockwaves through the land. And the blending of American has created a growing multi-racial population. Data on race has been collected since the first U.S. decennial census in 1790. For the first time in Census 2000, people were presented with the option to self-identify with more than one race and this continued with the 2010 Census. There were 57 possible multiple race combinations involving the five race categories and “Some Other Race.”
California, Texas, New York and Hawaii were among the states with the largest number of people who identified themselves as multiracial. And you see multiracialism begin to blur the lines and muddy the thinking in offices and schools across the country. It reminds of us that we are all multiracial. You notice people being more conscious, defining themselves as “Irish, Italian, Norwegian and I think maybe French, I’m not sure.” They used to just be White, but now they are opened up to new parts of themselves. After all, it is a multiracial nation.
In Part Two we will talk about the New Generation of Americans.