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6 Things Charities Should Know About America’s Rapid Demographic Shift

By Cody Switzer, The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The racial makeup of America is changing rapidly, with more waves of change coming soon. Nonprofits need to pay attention.

Those are the biggest takeaways from the work of William Frey, a demographer who is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and author of the book Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America.

Mr. Frey wrote the book because he was surprised by the findings of the 2010 census, the most recent conducted.

“I had been anticipating this for some time,” he writes in the preface. “But even I was taken aback by the scope of racial change.”

We talked with Mr. Frey about what nonprofits need to know about America’s rapidly changing racial demographics.

Here are six lessons from our conversation.

1. The change is happening very quickly.

In the next 40 years, the population of groups he calls “new minorities” — people of Hispanic or Asian heritage and people who identify as two or more races — will double, Mr. Frey says. The black population will also grow by 37 percent. The number of Native Americans will grow by 27 percent.

Those increases aren’t due just to immigration but also to the birth rate for those groups.

Meanwhile, the white, European-heritage population will begin declining in every age group except older people in 2025 or 2026. Projections show that the white population will shrink 6 percent by 2050.

Even before that, by 2044, America will be a majority-minority nation, meaning that no one racial group will make up more than half of the population.

2. To get a sense of where we’re headed, look at elementary schools.

In the 2010 census, the under-5-year-old population was already majority-minority, and when the next census is taken, in 2020, that will be true of the under-18 population, Mr. Frey says.

He calls this “diversity from the bottom up,” from young to old.

3. The labor force is diversifying, and your staff should be, too.

Without the growth of these racial groups, America’s population and work force would decline, which is already happening in Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Projections show all of the growth in our labor force will come from racial minorities.

“We really can open our arms to these young people,” Mr. Frey says. “They are going to be entering the labor force in big numbers — and already are — as the white baby-boomer retirees move out of it.”

That means that both donors and employees will continue to diversify, and Mr. Frey says that nonprofits need to make sure their staff and board look like America.

They should include people of different ages and races, he says, “to get their ideas about what they think is important.”

That helps both fundraising and programs as well as the country’s economy and overall well-being.

4. More interracial marriages and multiracial children are integrating cultures.

In the 2010 census, about 15 percent of all new marriages and 9 percent of all marriages were interracial, up from less than half a percent in 1960 — a huge gain over 50 years, Mr. Frey says. That means fundraisers shouldn’t assume that everyone in a household comes from the same cultural background. These marriages will produce more multiracial children, who are also members of a growing demographic group.

As children come of age, says Mr. Frey, they may identify as multiple races instead of picking one preferred race on census forms. That identity could help soothe some cultural tensions, he says.

“It will blur some of the racial divisions that we have in kind of a personal way,” says Mr. Frey.

It also means ­fundraisers should take care not to make assumptions about a donor’s racial identity.

5. The diversification of America isn’t limited to the coasts, as more people with different racial backgrounds move to the southeast, mountain west, and the Midwest.

This means that states that also have the lowest minority population — such as Wyoming, Colorado, Tennessee, and others — will also see the greatest growth in those populations.

“This ongoing dispersal of new minorities can lead to a softening of the rigid racial and political divisions that I feared would develop as separated migration patterns were taking shape in the 1980s,” Mr. Frey writes in his book.

He expects this trend to continue, which means that even if the area your nonprofit serves doesn’t have high racial diversity now, it could soon.

6. There’s a “cultural generation gap” between the young and old.

Older, predominantly white Americans and younger, more diverse populations have competing priorities, he says. Generally, the older population is increasingly opposed to government spending except for programs that benefit them, like Social Security, while younger Americans are concerned more about education and other social programs.

This dynamic only deepens other cultural differences.

“The older population is sometimes a little fearful of what’s going on and somehow wants to resist all of this demographic change,” he says.

To shrink these divisions, government and community leaders should make the case that Americans need to open their “hearts and pocketbooks” to embrace the young, diverse population and make sure they have what they need to succeed, he says. “If we do, we’re going to be in much better shape than a lot of other countries around the world.”

Send an e-mail to Cody Switzer.