By ERIN TEXEIRA, AP National Writer
Now that the nation officially numbers more than 300 million, what next?
What will 400 million look like?
If demographers are right, we'll hit that mark by 2043 or maybe sooner.
They and other futurists envision a typical American neighborhood that
year will be something like this:
More than likely it'll be located in the South or West, despite scarce
water resources and gas prices that make $3 a gallon look like a
bargain. Barely half of the community's residents will be white, and
one in four whites will be senior citizens. Nearly one in four people
will be Latino and multiracial Americans will be commonplace.
"We're going to be growing for the next 50 or 100 years, but it's not
because of the birthrate," said John Bongaarts, vice president of the
Population Council, a nonprofit in New York. "If the birthrate were to
drop we'd have a very different future ahead. If we were not living
longer and had no migrants we wouldn't be growing at all."
The U.S. will keep getting more racially and ethnically diverse; by
2043, it will be about 15 percent non-Hispanic black, 8 percent Asian
and 24 percent Hispanic.
Ideas about race that hold sway now, simply won't then, just as the
attitudes of 30 years ago have changed.
For example, in the 1970s one in three whites favored laws that barred
marriage between blacks and whites; in recent years it's barely one in
More than 7 million Americans reported in Census 2000 that they were
multiracial -- 42 percent of them were under age 18.
"The racial lines will basically be blurred," said William H. Frey, a
demographer with the Brookings Institution. "It's hard to say what the
different classifications will be. ... The stark racial categories now
Mixing and melding will be the norm for today's children, who by 2043
will be moving into positions of power across society as the last baby
boomers close in on 80.
"Think of the electoral base," said C. Matthew Snipp, a sociologist
and demographer at Stanford University. "It seems likely that the
power structures will change."
Demographers say some of today's trends will continue: Rust Belt
cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland will probably keep
losing population, though some argue that lower costs of living may
attract people who can telecommute to jobs elsewhere.
The fastest growing states will continue to be Nevada, Arizona and
Florida. Census projections through 2030 show the Sun Belt continuing
to gain population.
With some cities and suburbs becoming more densely populated, far-out
exurban areas will keep growing — which will probably mean longer
commutes and more demand for gasoline. Demographers predict costs for
gas and water, now relatively inexpensive, will mushroom.
Lifesaving drugs and technologies will help Americans stay alive longer
than ever -- and the nation overall will age.
In 2000, 12.4 percent of Americans were aged 65 and older -- but
that percentage is projected to jump to 20 percent by 2043. More than
one in four residents of Florida, New Mexico, North Dakota, Maine,
Montana and Wyoming will be over age 65.
Here's another way to think of the senior boom: Between 2000 and 2050,
the group of Americans who are 85 and older will nearly quadruple to
almost 21 million.
The good news is this will help revitalize rural, retirement-friendly
places with lots of natural amenities like the nation's Western
mountains and some Great Lakes areas, said Kenneth Johnson of Loyola
University-Chicago. "These tourist and retirement destinations are the
fastest-growing rural areas," he said, adding that this is attracting
workers -- many new immigrants -- to build houses and tend hotels.
But a big bubble of elderly Americans also will strain Social Security
and Medicare, and there will be "big battles" over how to pay for
them, Bongaarts said.
Demographers repeatedly warned that projections are iffy; things change.
Expected medical breakthroughs may not happen. World events -- wars,
diseases, economic ups and down -- can stop or speed up immigration.
Americans could stop having enough children to replace themselves, which
they're just barely managing now. Things that seemed a lock just a short
time ago can be thwarted.
Two years ago, for example, California officials downgraded by 15
percent their predictions for state growth, mainly because Latino
families were having far fewer babies than expected. When the U.S. hit
200 million people in 1967, the nation was supposed to reach 300
million before the end of the century.
"Nobody really knows for certain where this will go," Snipp said. "All
this is premised on many, many assumptions."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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