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Minority Kids Grow to a Majority

Young Americans who are minorities outnumber young whites in almost one of every six U.S. counties. It's a demographic wave that is transforming more parts of the nation and raising questions about who is a minority.

An analysis of the under-20 population shows that minority youths are the majority in 505 counties and that 60 counties have reached that milestone in this decade.

"The change is due both to minority kids' gains and to declines in the number of white kids," says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute who analyzed Census data. "This isn't about immigration anymore."

The multiplying effect of diversity is rapid. In 2008, 34 percent of U.S. residents were minorities, but 48 percent of babies born in the USA were minorities. The number of white youths has dropped 5.3 percent since 2000 while the young minority population grew 15.5 percent. "It will be hard to define who is a minority in the future," says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

Communities face challenges when new settlers speak different languages and come from different backgrounds. For example, schools that never taught non-English speakers have had to launch programs. What's driving the changes:

-- Black, Hispanic and Asian families are moving to suburbia. Some have come for jobs created by population growth. Others leave urban areas in search of more space, better schools and less crime. Most counties where the minority youth population surged past 50 percent from 2000 to 2008 are suburban or rural counties. Three are around Atlanta.

-- Several predominantly white counties that are attracting young minorities have lost young white residents because of a decline in agriculture. Many who went away to college never came back. The remaining white population is aging and having fewer children.

Change is happening so quickly that the youngest Americans are much more likely to be minorities than those who are a few years older, says Johnson, who did the research with Daniel Lichter, a demographer at Cornell University.

Among youths ages 15 to 19, 60 percent are non-Hispanic whites. Among those 4 or younger, 53 percent are white.

"Change is coming from the bottom, and it's not a short-term phenomenon," Johnson says.

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