The U.S. Population and Categorical Demographic Diversity

The U.S. population now has more than 281 million residents. The number of persons in the United States has tripled over the past century among persons under age 65, and increased by a factor of 11 among those age 65 and over (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Ethnic diversity has increased among all age categories in the population, particularly among younger populations. By the year 2050, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the United States is expected to decrease to 53 percent overall. As many as 56 percent of adolescents are projected to represent ethnic minority groups; that is, groups other than non-Hispanic whites or EuroAmericans (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000; Brown et al., 1996). More people are completing formal education, poverty rates have reached their lowest levels since 1979, and real median household income has reached a record high, increasing for all types of households in all regions of the United States in 1998 (U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, 2000; Dalaker and Proctor, 2000).

All of these changes in demographics suggest that the cultural landscape of the U.S. population is changing toward a larger, older, more ethnically diverse, and more educated population. For example, Hispanics constitute a relatively younger population lagging in education and income, while whites are older and have higher accumulated wealth. Among populations age 15 and older, non-Hispanic whites (83 percent) were most likely to have at least a high school education in 2000, followed by Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders (78 percent), non-Hispanic African-Americans (72 percent), and Hispanics (53 percent) (Bennett and Martin, 1995).

The income gap between rich and poor remains considerable (U.S. Census Bureau, 1998). In 2000, Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders had the highest median income ($55,500) and Hispanics and African-Americans had the lowest ($33,400 and $30,400, respectively). The poverty rate across all groups is approximately 11 percent, with African-Americans and Hispanics well above the mean and non-Hispanic whites well below the mean (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001).

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