June 12, 2010 -- Record levels of births among minorities in the past decade are moving the USA a step closer to a demographic milestone in which no group commands a majority, new Census estimates show.
Minorities accounted for almost 49% of U.S. births in the year ending July 1, 2009, a record high, according to data released Thursday. They make up more than half the population in 317 counties — about 1 in 10 — four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas) and the District of Columbia.
The USA TODAY Diversity Index shows increases in every state since 2000. The index was created to measure how racially and ethnically diverse the population is. It uses the percentage of each race counted by the Census Bureau — white, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian — and Hispanic ethnicity to calculate the chance that any two people are from different groups. The scale ranges from 0 (no diversity) to 100.
The 2009 national index is 52, up from 47 in 2000. That means that the chance of two randomly selected people being different is slightly more than half. In 1980, the index was 34, a 1-in-3 chance.
The level of diversity varies widely from region to region — from as high as 79 in Hawaii and 68 in California to as low as 10 in Maine and Vermont and 13 in West Virginia.
Much of the rapid growth in diversity is driven by an influx of young Hispanic immigrants whose birthrates are higher than those of non-Hispanic whites, creating a race and ethnic chasm and a widening age gap. "There are more than 500 counties which have a majority of minority children," says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. "The population is changing to minority from the bottom up."
Diversity Rises Across U.S.
Nationwide, 48.3% of kids under age 5 are minorities, while 19.9% of people 65 and older are.
In Gwinnett County, Ga., near Atlanta, one of seven counties where minorities became the majority last year, 88% of the under-20 population was non-Hispanic white in 1990. In 2009, 42% was. "The whole county just flipped," Johnson says.
• The nation's median age inched upward to 36.8 from 36.7 in 2008.
• The fountain of youth is in Utah, where 9.8% of the population is 5 and under (the highest of any state) and the median age is 28.8 (the youngest).