In the coming years, millennials – many of whom are saddled with student loan debt – and other younger generations will be expected to pay into Social Security and take on other burdens as baby boomers age into retirement and increasingly require more care.
There are already signs of what the political and economic implications will be for an aging, more racially diverse and progressive-minded population whose Asian and Hispanic groups continue to be the demographic groups who are the fastest growing, youngest and vote for Democrats.
Data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau analyzing population counts from April 2010 to July 2017 said the nation’s population has grown almost 6 percent, or more than 18 million people, since the 2010 Census.
By 2060, the United States is projected to grow by 78 million people, from about 326 million today to 404 million.
California, which the largest population in the country at over 40 million people, was second in growth since 2010, adding 2.3 million people.
The state has the largest Hispanic population in the nation at 15.5 million and the largest Asian population at 6.8 million.
More than half a million Asian-Americans live in Los Angeles County’s San Gabriel Valley region, more than in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago.
The region’s total population grew only 2 percent between 2000 and 2010 while its Asian American population grew 22 percent, according to a March 2018 report by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.
But that diversity in numbers hasn’t translated to favorable political conditions. Access to affordable housing, well-paying jobs and an environment free of pollution remains out of reach for many Asian-Americans in the region, the report said.
Over 52 percent of Asian-American renters in the San Gabriel Valley are burdened by housing costs, the report said, while over 25 percent of the region is severely polluted, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Racial diversity and a growing youth population are projected to result in seismic political shifts for neighboring Orange County.
In the county, historically Southern California’s base of conservative politics, young people – in particular Hispanics and Asians – have shifted to more progressive positions, including support for gun control and rent control.
By large percentages, adult residents in Orange County support stronger regulations for firearms, policies that protect the environment, and a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to an April 5 survey by Chapman University.
“Demographics are political destiny,” Chapman researcher Fred Smoller said in an interview. “One group – white males – is cycling out and losing their place in society, replaced by younger more socially tolerant young people of color.”
The country’s political climate is already being shaped by what Census figures show is a decrease in the white population and the growth of black and Hispanic groups, leading to what Smoller described as “white men’s fear of social displacement” and the resulting political dramas.
Hispanics made up 18.1 percent of the nation’s total population in 2017, growing 2.1 percent to 58.9 million, while the black population increased 1.2 percent to 47.4 million.
The Asian population grew 3.1 percent to 22.2 million.
The non-Hispanic white population decreased and is projected to shrink over the coming decades, from 199 million in 2020 to 179 million in 2060, according to Census estimates.
Whites alone and whites who may be mixed with another race have the highest median age compared to the other race groups – at 43.5 years and 39.2 years, respectively.
“If not a single person of color came across the border ever again, these numbers would still prevail,” Smoller said.
Dowell Myers, professor of policy and planning at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said he doesn’t expect growth in populations of racial groups to have an effect on future politics.
“California is a great example,” Myers said in an interview, adding that after the state fell below a 30 percent white population it remained on track to become the “most prosperous state.”
Smoller was uncompromising with his analysis.
“The decline of the white population explains so many things in state and national politics,” Smoller said. “We can tie it to the increased support for prisons over education, anti-immigrant laws, the reaction by voters to the first black president by electing Trump, the great white hope.”
Part of the political shift demonstrated by Orange County’s changeover has to do with young people and the positions they take up in society.
Smoller and Myers agreed that there has not been enough investment in young people who, due to the 2008 financial collapse and ongoing student loan crisis, play into a story of a nation at a disadvantage to other countries.
Student debt now totals about $1.5 trillion, more than credit cards and car loans, according to Federal Reserve data. About four in 10 people who have attended college have taken out loans to help pay for it.
“[Young people are] a huge resource and will carry the burden of supporting old people,” Myers said. “I don’t know why you want to burden them with student loan debt.”
Myers said the best investment for the country was to “spend tax dollars to make future tax dollars.” He chided President Donald Trump’s cuts to education and lack of relief for students with loan debt.
“[Trump] is not thinking about the next five or 10 years,” he said “Tax cuts [he] passed benefit older people and in any smart society that is a mistake.”
The Census Bureau conducts a count of the nation’s population every 10 years in order to gather data population, demographic information and set the number of each state’s congressional representatives.
The 2020 Census will be the first to be implemented primarily online and is expected to cost an estimated $15.6 billion.
Census data is used by the federal government to determine how to allocate more than $400 billion in federal funding each year on education, public health, transportation and other programs.
In March, the U.S. Department of Commerce said the 2020 Census will include a question about citizenship status, claiming it will help protect minority voting rights.
“Having citizenship data at the Census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act,” the department said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on May 1 to join California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s lawsuit opposing the inclusion of a question in the 2020 Census.
Becerra sued the Trump administration in March over the proposed inclusion of the citizenship question, calling it unconstitutional.
A Census Bureau projection shows that all baby boomers will be older than age 65 by 2030 and will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.
“By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.4 million under the age of 18,” Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the Census Bureau, said in a statement.
“The 2030s are projected to be a transformative decade for the U.S. population,” the Census report said. “Net international migration is projected to overtake natural increase in 2030 as the primary driver of population.”
Myers said the U.S. will have to compete with Europe and countries like Japan for young immigrants who can fill the gaps in population.
The nation as a whole experienced an increase in median age -the point where half of the population is younger and the other half is older – from 37.2 years to 38.0 years.
Molly Cromwell, a demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau, said that distracts from data showing certain regions trending towards younger populations.
Approximately half of the nation’s 531 counties that were getting younger between April 2010 and July 2017 were in the Midwest, Cromwell said.
Despite the decrease in median age in many of the Midwest’s counties, a majority of counties in the country continued to grow older.
“We have a desperate need for young people,” Myers said. “Every young person will have to lift twice as much weight as the last generation. Every young person is twice as precious and valuable and we should strengthen their capacity through education.”
This continued aging of the country is consistent with the projected changes to the nation’s population through 2060.
“Baby boomers, and millennials alike, are responsible for this trend in increased aging,” said Cromwell said. “Boomers continue to age and are slowly outnumbering children as the birth rate has declined steadily over the last decade.”
Myers said the country can’t afford anymore young people dropping out of high school or being sent to prison.
“We’re getting closer to that point where today’s teenagers will be the future workers and when baby boomers will be over 65,” Myers said. “We know its coming and it’s getting more urgent and we’re running out of time to prepare young people.”