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What Will Americans Look Like in 2050?

Professor discusses demographic shifts, economic uncertainty and the future of metropolitan America

Manual Pastor Jr. vividly remembers December 15, 1999. That was a day of significance for the UC Santa Cruz professor of Latin American and Latino Studies. It was the day California became a “majority minority” state. From demographic data including the 2010 Census he predicts that the total U.S. population will go below 50 percent white in 2042. His lecture, “Change is Gonna Come” was presented at Stanford Wednesday.

Pastor believes that as our nation’s demographics change we will have to learn about new leadership styles, population trends, and who we are as a nation.

He sees California becoming majority Latino by 2050 largely because Los Angeles is a major entry point for immigrants. But only 32 percent of all immigrants to Los Angeles are from Mexico.

Another trend is that immigrants are moving from the city into suburbs like the San Fernando Valley. Such suburbs used to be overwhelmingly white; now they mirror the national profile.

From the 2010 Census we found that New Mexico had the highest percentage of Latinos (46) while Kansas had the least (11). Both California and Texas are currently 38 percent Latino.

In answer to an audience question, Pastor said that the Census is a total count and its data doesn’t distinguish between documented and undocumented people or between immigrants and U.S.-born.

The median age for non-Hispanic whites is 41 years but only 27 years for Latinos. Pastor called that a "startling statistic.” It is indicative of a growing generation gap. “The gap matters,” Pastor said, because “the older generation is not willing to spend for education of the young.”

Pastor sees the roots of our recent economic woes in the inequality of wealth. One group had so much money that they were forced into speculating while another group (“the 99 percent”) turned to sub-prime mortgages in their effort to fulfill the American dream. He said, “The young of color generation needs to be more productive to support all the older people. Equity is the key to growth.”

He pointed out that metropolitan areas that are more equitable are more prosperous and have more economic growth. His findings are detailed in a forthcoming book that he co-authored with Chris Benner, “Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions.”

Pastor concluded his prepared remarks by contrasting two possible leadership styles. One is likened to a chess game in which pieces are either black or white and winning means eliminating your rival’s strategic pieces. This style leads to the corrosive politics that we see around us every day.

On the other hand, there is a leadership style that is like completing a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece is important and could be an infinite mix of colors, and inclusion is the key to success.

Michael Kahan, Associate Director of Stanford’s Urban Studies Program, asked about the generation gap and effects of Proposition 13 in California. Pastor replied that “Prop. 13 said per capita spending had to equal [throughout the state.] But we need to spend more for the students in need. Property taxes from people are more than corporate taxes. Young people should be pissed off about low property taxes paid by long time residents and higher taxes paid by new homeowners. We need to link generations.”

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