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Falling white birthrate: The new American ‘us’

America's white majority is slipping away faster than ever, affecting issues from the immigration debate to the future of the economy.

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Members of the United States men's 4x100m freestyle relay team celebrate after winning the race at the World Aquatics Championships in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007.

David Gray/Reuters/File

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News from the Census Bureau this week shows the United States moving faster than ever toward a “minority majority” population. For the first time in at least a century more white Americans are dying than being born.  

That wasn’t supposed to happen for several more years, but the trend has been accelerating, the bureau says. By no later than next year white children under the age of 5 will be a minority. By 2043 whites are expected to make up less than half of the total US population.

The news is another waymark on the path to a new America – and a new way of thinking about America. A half century ago, as the civil rights movement began to take hold, the American story was one of a predominantly white country still struggling to fully accept the idea of an African-American minority with equal rights as citizens. Consciously or unconsciously some white Americans thought of their country in binary black-white racial terms, a dominant “us” and a subservient “them.”

No more. The new American “us” isn’t white, black, Asian, or Hispanic. It’s all of these and much more. In fact, the fastest-growing group in the country is “multiracial.” As William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, puts it, the US is “browning from the bottom up.”

Much has been made of how this dynamic is changing the political landscape, forcing the Republican Party in particular to do some soul-searching about how to become more welcoming to nonwhites. The current debate in Washington on immigration reform reflects the new political realities as well. Recently  Sen. Timothy Kaine (D) of Virginia gave a speech on immigration on the Senate floor entirely in Spanish – the first sitting senator ever to do so.

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