Focus Policy Blog


Increasing diversity of America’s youth is geographically uneven

According to the US Census Bureau, the non-Hispanic white population will become a racial minority in the United States by 2043. This is anticipated to be attributed to differences in child birth rates between various ethnic minorities, changes in racial composition of women of childbearing age, and changes in immigration trends. In a recent report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire that analyzed 2012 US Census population data and estimates, the authors noted that the number of ethnic minority children grew 25% to 7.7 million between 2000 and 2012. However, ethnic diversity is not distributed evenly geographically, with only 20% of U.S. counties (606 counties) having majority-minority youth populations in 2012. An additional 306 counties have close majority-minority youth populations, with percentages ranging between 40-50%.

The report found that increases in racial diversity nationally are due to an increase in the number of minority children and a decrease in the number of non-Hispanic white children. Compared to the U.S. Adult population in which 33% is of an ethnic minority, 47% of the youth population aged 20 and under is of an ethnic minority in 2012. Within this ethnic minority youth population, 24% are Latino, 14% Black, 4% Asian, and 5% other ethnic minority. Contrary to popular belief, this report indicated that increases in diversity among youth occur most rapidly outside big cities rather in large urban cores where ethnic minorities have typically clustered. Though urban cores currently have the largest percentage of youth ethnic minorities at 66%, the greatest gains (absolute and percentage) were in areas beyond urban core of metropolitan cities with populations of at least 1 million residents. Most ethnic minority youth clusters are concentrated in the Southwest and Mississippi Delta, with new clusters in Georgia, the Carolinas, Pacific Northwest, and Colorado (Figure 8).

This aligned with a geographic map (Figure 9) that illustrated racial diversity of the youth population aged 20 and younger, with the Southwest and Southeast having moderate levels of racial/ethnic diversity and sprawling across metropolitan areas of the Midwest and East. There is limited ethnic diversity in the upper Midwest with the exception of counties in the Great Plains.

The authors highlighted that with or without restrictive immigration legislation and policy, ethnic diversity among US youth is increasing despite unequal distribution geographically. This change in racial/ethnic diversity has implications for future politics, policies, and ethnic group relations, as well as potential changes in ethnic identities.

Joanne Chan, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, Harvard School of Public Health