BABY SHIFT: Is it time to rethink our concept of racial minorities?
Ding, ding, ding! The United States has hit a new demographic milestone. According to a May 17 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, slightly more than half (50.4 percent) of the population younger than one year old was “minority”as of July 1, 2011. In 2010, 49.5 percent of babies were members of a group the bureau describes as “other than non-Hispanic white alone.”
Overall, there were 114 million people of color in the U.S. in 2011. That is 36.6 percent of the population, a half-percent increase from 2010. Hispanics were the most populous group at 52 million; African-Americans were second at 43.9 million; there were 18.2 million Asians, 6.3 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 1.4 million Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders. Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, and Texas were “majority-minority” in 2011.
What People Are Saying About This Milestone
At CNN, Rinku Sen, publisher of Colorlines.com, argued that the milestone means it’s time to stop describing people of color as “minorities.” “The term ‘people of color’ has deep historical roots, not to be confused with the pejorative ‘colored people,'” Sen said. “‘People of color’ was first used in the French West Indies to indicate people of African descent who were not enslaved as “gens de couleur libre,” or ‘free people of color,’ and scholars have found references to the term in English dating back to the early 1800’s. American racial justice activists, influenced by Franz Fanon, picked up the term in the late 1970s and began to use it widely by the early 80s.”
At National Review, Hoover Institution fellow Thomas Sowell said, “It means that minorities who traditionally vote overwhelmingly for Democrats can ensure that the country veers ever further to the left over the years, making America more like the welfare states of Europe, whose unsustainable spending led ultimately to financial crises and widespread riots.”
“When they grow up, all these little brown babies will be working hard to pay for the Medicare and Social Security benefits of a whole lot of old white people like me,” wrote cartoonist David Horsey at The Los Angeles Times. “It might be a good idea, then, for us all to pay more attention to the quality of K-12 education these youngsters will be getting and make sure they are ready and able to access higher education.”
At Slate, Brian Palmer provided a brief history of the federal government’s race classification systems. As to the current categories, he said they were designed in the 1970s to “track discrimination” and “officials from the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for maintaining the nation’s racial-classification system, have always admitted that the categories have no scientific or anthropological basis.”
“Demography is not destiny,” Sowell concluded at National Review. But, he said, “Our whole educational system, from the elementary schools to the universities, is permeated with ideologies of group grievances and resentments, painting each group into the corner of its own separate subculture instead of drawing it into the mainstream of the American culture that made this the greatest nation on earth. Unless this fashionable balkanization is stopped, demography can become destiny — and a tragedy for all.”
Radio host Jay Smooth, meanwhile, advised white people to stop freaking out about the demographic shift at AnimalNewYork.com. I wonder what he would advise Sowell, who is black.
What do you think?
What does this demographic shift mean for the future?
African Americans Are Better Off
African Americans are not as impoverished as the United States Census Bureau’s 2011 Official Poverty Measure (OPM) stated, according to the bureau’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).
“This is a group whose families have incomes that are often below the poverty line, so the starting point is an issue for African Americans,” Census Bureau research economist Kathleen Short told UrbanFaith via tele-conference after she presented her SPM report at a Brookings Institution press conference this morning.
“They’re starting with low income, so we’re going to see the benefits received by those families will be effective either in moving them across the poverty line or from the bottom of an income distribution,” she said.
African Americans are also more likely to live in alternative housing arrangements that are taken into account in the new measure, Short said. “When we create these new units, we’re bringing together people who have income who aren’t in the official measure,” she explained.
Addressing Criticisms of Bureau’s Official Poverty Measure
At the press conference, Short introduced the SPM as an “experimental measure” that addresses criticisms of the OPM, but said it “will not be used to estimate eligibility for programs or allocate funds.”
The SPM measures poverty by calculating resources that include cash income and federal government “in-kind” benefits that families can use to meet basic needs. Necessary expenses including, but not limited to taxes, clothing, housing, utilities, child care, child support, and out-out-of-pocket medical expenses are subtracted from the income total in the new measure.
It also assumes that un-related members of a household share resources as an economic unit, takes in to account the cost of living in different geographic regions and community types, and divides households into homeowners with mortgages, homeowners without mortgages, and renters.
The OPM was adopted in 1969 and is based on cash income, the cost of a minimum diet multiplied by three, and household units that only include members related by birth, marriage, or adoption. Unrelated members of the same household over the age of fifteen are treated as individuals in the OPM.
Ron Haskins, a Brookings Institution senior fellow for economic studies, said the Census Bureau “has done exactly the right thing” by producing the SPM, which he speculated will now be the “focus of attention,” even though he fears the OPM will not change.
“Anybody who has ever been involved in a congressional fight on a formula will agree with me,” said Haskins.
Comparing the Old and the New
The Census Bureau’s September 2011 poverty report estimated that there were 46.6 million Americans living in poverty in 2010. The SPM estimates that number to be 49.1 million. The OPM calculated the poverty threshold for 2010 at $22,113, while the SPM calculates the threshold at $24,343.
The SPM estimates lower poverty rates than the OPM for individuals included in new SPM household units, for children, Blacks, renters, those living outside of metropolitan areas, those living in the Midwest and the South, and those covered by only public health insurance.
It shows higher poverty rates for those 18 to 64 years of age, those 65 years of age and older, married-couple families, Whites, Asians, the foreign born, homeowners with mortgages, those with private health insurance, and residents of metropolitan areas, the Northeast, and the West. It also shows an increase in poverty rates for male householders, but no change from the OPM for females.
Short attributed geographic differences to differences in housing costs and said increased poverty rates among the elderly reflect the inclusion of out-of-pocket medical expenses in the SPM.
The initial starting point of cash income is important in determining poverty rates, she said, as are poverty thresholds, federal in-kind benefits, and basic living expenses.
“If a group typically has cash income below the poverty line, then we will find that in-kind benefits are effective at bringing them above that line and few expenses will be effective at bringing them below the poverty line. On the other hand, if we have a group that has income just above the poverty line, we will see expenses that are very effective at raising poverty rates and few effective benefits since many are already above the line,” Short concluded.
An NPR reporter on the conference call asked why other reports show an increase in poverty rates for children and a decrease for the elderly.
“What is reflected in this measure is the fact that transfers the elderly get are in cash for the most part, so you have Social Security benefits that are already in the official measure, while the benefits that children receive, and the families of children, are in-kind benefits that were not typically included in the official measure,” said Short.
Bearing in Mind New Measure’s “Moving Parts”
It’s important to bear in mind the “many moving parts” in the new measure when “making comparisons across measures, across groups, or over time,” Short said in her presentation, and indeed journalists participating in the tele-conference questioned its veracity for reasons already mentioned and because its accuracy is based on the truthfulness of government survey respondents.
“The measure is not perfect,” Short told reporters. She said ongoing research will seek to correct for reporting inaccuracies.
“Some of the parts increase poverty rates and other parts decrease rates,” Short told the Brookings Institution audience. “Determining one reason or finding one smoking gun for differences is difficult.”
The Census Bureau’s hope is that the SPM will provide a more accurate reflection of poverty statistics, she said, and it plans to release an improved SPM one year from now. Its long term goal is to release the SPM with the OPM as “complimentary statistic that provides additional insight.”
What do you think?
Are you surprised to hear that African Americans are in better economic shape than previously reported? Is the new measure an improvement?
The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report today on Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage. The report summarizes data for 2010 and compared it to earlier statistics to issue a gloomy economic forecast.
Here are the facts, as summarized by the Associated Press:
“The ranks of the nation’s poor swelled to nearly 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment woes left millions of Americans struggling and out of work. The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in over two decades.”
“The U.S. poverty rate from 2007-2010 has now risen faster than any three-year period since the early 1980s. …Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty is the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959. Based on percentages, it tied the poverty level in 1993 and was the highest since 1983.”
“The share of Americans without health coverage rose from 16.1 percent to 16.3 percent — or 49.9 million people. … That is due mostly because of continued losses of employer-provided health insurance in the weakened economy.”
“Poverty rose among all race and ethnic groups except Asians. The number of Hispanics in poverty increased from 25.3 percent to 26.6 percent; for blacks it increased from 25.8 percent to 27.4 percent, and Asians it was flat at 12.1 percent. The number of whites in poverty rose from 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent.”
“The median — or midpoint — household income was $49,445, down 2.3 percent from 2009.”
In light of this news, we offer Psalms of deliverance from the NIV:
Psalm 12:5: “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD.“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
Psalm 15:5: “Who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.”
Psalm 35:10: “My whole being will exclaim, ‘Who is like you, LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.’ ”
Psalm 113:7: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
Where do you find hope when the economic forecast seems to grow gloomier by the day?
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