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Red, white and blue, and black and brown and Asian, too

Posted: September 8, 2011 - 12:05am

The following editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A report last month from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program contains a profound policy question for leaders of America’s cities: How do they respond to a population that increasingly is black, brown and Asian?

The report shows that between 2000 and 2010, America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas became ever more populated by “minorities,” so much so that in 22 metro areas, minorities now make up a majority of the population.

Indeed, non-whites and Hispanics accounted for 98 percent of population growth in the 100 largest metro areas between 2000 and 2010. Nationwide, the Hispanic and Asian populations each grew by 42 percent. The black population grew by 12 percent. The white population grew only 1.2 percent. Forty-two of the 100 largest metros actually lost white population.

Where did they all go? Remember, we’re talking metropolitan areas here, so suburban flight wouldn’t account for the loss.

Some of the urban white population may have moved farther out. But most of them simply died faster than they were replaced, either by new births or in-migration.

Whatever the cause, Brookings demographer William H. Frey reports, America’s cities are “on the front lines of a transformative era affecting public policy and race relations for decades to come.”

Among the challenges Frey sees posed by these changes is how communities “will provide social, educational and health services to rapidly changing, diverse Hispanic and Asian communities who speak a variety of languages and represent different origins.”

These dry numbers become more urgent when they’re placed against a political background. As one era gives way to another, deep feelings of dislocation can result. The “I want my country back” mantra of the Tea Party is one manifestation.

Brookings talks about a “cultural generation gap” between young and old on issues like immigration, education and the competition for scarce public dollars. “These gaps will become most prevalent within large metro areas, especially within the suburbs, where the divides will be most apparent,” Frey predicts.

America and Americans are changing, and changing rapidly. As a nation, we can choose to whine about it or make it work for everyone’s benefit.

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