Urban America Forward | “Responding to Shifting Demographics”

“The median age for whites in the United States is 42; the median age for Asian Pacific Islanders is approximately 35; the median age for African Americans is 32; for Latinos, it is 27.” – Manuel Pastor, USC

“Asian-American communities are growing beyond the traditional gateway cities to southern and Midwestern cities.” – Mee Moua, Asian American Justice Center

“70% of all black students and 62% of all Latino students in college are women” – Micere Keels, University of Chicago

‘The civil rights era taught us that, in the absence of civil rights policies, choice has in many instances intensified inequality.” – Gary Orfield, The Civil Rights Project. UCLA

“Nearly half of black children and more than 60% of Hispanic children are not enrolled in pre-K.” – Donald Hernandez, Hunter College

Over the past forty years, the United States has experienced dramatic shifts in racial and ethnic composition. These demographic trends demand new policy approaches to address the complexity of a more diverse America. 

  • By 2044, America will become a majority-minority nation, and by 2020, more than one-half of the nation's children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group. [1]
  • New policies must also respond to a burgeoning generation gap; nearly one-half of those under 18 self-identify as Black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, or multiracial. [2]
  • Demographic change is also now occurring beyond the original gateway cities such as Los Angeles or Miami, with cities such as Atlanta, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Phoenix experiencing the shift firsthand.
  • Increasingly, minority population growth is attributed to citizen births to immigrant families rather than directly to immigration.

Below are the overarching themes and the corresponding policy recommendations that emerged during the Roundtable Series.  


Overarching Themes

Numeric growth has not yet translated to increased political power. Today’s political rhetoric reflects the anxiety over an impending majority-minority population, as do recent policy choices, from voting rights restrictions to the challenges to affirmative action policies.

Local and regional government have a significant role to play in addressing race and equity. Equitable urban development requires removing structural impediments to inclusion, such as siloed funding streams for housing, transportation, education, workforce development, and community health. Local and regional government should align resources and strategies and prioritize “participatory decision making,” that is, the engagement of affected communities in the planning process.

Multiracial solidarity will be essential to building the necessary movements to improve urban America. Youth organizers are intentionally multiracial in their approach. More resources should be directed to sustaining their efforts.

Policy Recommendations

Adopt two-generation approaches to simultaneously promote human capital among parents and children, who will compose the new majority. Champion early childhood education services with adult-oriented services that promote parents’ education and employment.

Reform local and regional government infrastructure to promote inclusion. Strong regional governance, whether by metropolitan planning organizations or across transportation, housing, planning, and workforce development agencies, can name inclusion as a specific goal and foster more equitable regional resource distribution.

Models and Tactics 

The Aspen Institute’s Ascend Network provides a model network for two-generation approaches. The network shares results-focused, innovative, and collaborative approaches to drive two-generation work. [3]

Seattle’s local government addresses equity. Amid rapid growth, the mayor’s office created the Office of Planning and Community Development led by the directors of the departments of Transportation and Planning to build “thriving communities with a mix of amenities, open space, transportation, utilities, affordable housing, and economic opportunity.” [4]


[1] S. Colby and J. Ortman, “Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population:

2014 to 2060.” Current Population Reports, P25-1143. (Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 2014), p. 13, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p25-1143.pdf.

[2] T. Wiltz, “Racial Generation Gap Looms Large for States” (Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trust, Jan. 16, 2014), http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/1/16/racial-generation-gap-looms-large-for-states

[3] The network is a partnership among 58 organizations from 24 states and the District of Columbia, including tribal nations. See Aspen Institute, Reimagining 2Gen Pathways: Bold Ideas for 2015” (Washington, DC: Aspen Thinkxchange, 2014), http://b.3cdn.net/ascend/1610aa3fe4c6a9cdb3_01m6yht34.pdf.

[4] City of Seattle, "About Us: Office of Planning and Community Development," http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/cityplanning/default.htm.