Sunday, December 20, 2009

Debunking the Brown Peril

Last Thursday's New York Times had a pop-eyed, but basically accurate, article on how, with even moderate net immigration, the Census Bureau projects that non-Hispanic whites will cease to be a majority in the U.S. by 2050. That sounded like a good spot for some clarity, so I took a look.

Result: It's hard to see much of a bright side for, say, the Aryan Brotherhood. (By their standard, of course, I myself, like Fleischman in "Northern Exposure," am not really white.) But for the Lou Dobbs fans, who are worried that soon it won't be their country anymore, it's too early to start packing for Australia.

First of all, in 2050 whites will be, if not a majority, at least a strong plurality-- by far the largest group in the country. Non-Hispanic whites, even in the version of the model with high net immigration, make up 45% of the population, compared to 31% for Hispanics of all races. (In the low-immigration version, the figures are 48% and 29%.) And some of the decrease in the white share is caused by a dramatic increase in the share of non-Hispanic Asians and multiracials. (Again, not much consolation to the Aryan Brotherhood.)

But perhaps most importantly, what is the basic fear of the Lou Dobbs crowd? It is that America will end up with a substantial undigested lump of immigrants who don't speak English, with various pernicious effects. They should read, among other things, this paper by some well-known demographers, which estimates that even among Mexican-Americans in Southern California (where pressures for assimilation are about as low as anywhere), only 17% of third-generation immigrants, and 5% of fourth-generation immigrants, will be fluent in Spanish. Among the third generation, 96% prefer to speak English at home.

In short, as some Spanish-speakers enter, others turn into English-speakers named Martinez. The melting pot is still hot.

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