Greg Toppo and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY
The USA's largest population group - whites who are not Hispanic - recorded more deaths than births last year for the first time ever, according to an analysis of Census Bureau estimates out today. The milestone reflects the aging of the white population and lower birth rates than those among minorities.
Between July 2011 and July 2012, an estimated 12,400 more white Americans died than were born, says demographer Kenneth Johnson of the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. As recently as 2010-11, white births outpaced deaths by 29,600. The figures don't include multiracial births.
The number of whites still increased slightly last year because immigration more than compensated for the gap between births and deaths. Whites make up 64% of the population and might become a minority by 2050 if current trends continue.
Today's data show that the USA's Asian population rose 2.9% last year, much of it because of immigration. Hispanics grew 2.2% and now represent better than one in six Americans. Blacks grew by 1.3% and whites by 0.1%.
Demographers studying the USA's rapidly growing diversity have long expected that deaths among the non-Hispanic white population ultimately would outpace births, but they didn't expect it until the end of the decade. Johnson says the economic downturn prompted a "precipitous" drop in births among the group.
In the next few years, the last of the generation born during the 1930s and World War II will turn 80. The first Baby Boomers will follow closely. Because so many of these Americans are white, Johnson says, "the number of white deaths is going to go up, whereas the number of white births, I don't think, is going to change very much." Already, he says, whites account for 80% of deaths in the USA.
William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, says the nation's non-Hispanic white population inevitably will shrink.
He predicts that white retirees "will be on the receiving end of an economy which will be fueled largely by the efforts of Hispanics, blacks and Asians," whose birth-to-death ratios are not headed in the same direction.
Frey sees the next few decades as "almost an inversion of the 20th century, when the white middle class was the engine of our demographic and economic growth."
In this century, he says, the USA's young people are "from Mexico and Guatemala and China and India - and I think that's going to be one of our challenges this century, having a large part of the old Baby Boom understand it's the young people who are really their benefactors."