There’s been a lot of talk about America’s upcoming demographic shift, and the fact that within the next three decades America will have no clear racial or ethnic majority. So what? As recent examples like the George Zimmerman trial and the racist rhetoric around the immigration debate show, we know this doesn’t mean that America is anywhere near approaching a post-racial society. As the number of folks of color increases, the conversations between communities of color cannot be driven by polarization but by recognizing shared goals of equity and economic prosperity that will lift up the entire nation.
You saw the beginnings of these conversations happen after the election of President Obama. Pundits and political operatives marveled at the margin of victory he received among African Americans and Hispanics and then began to do the math. What they found was this: By 2043, there would be no racial or ethnic majority in the country, and before then, the electorate would continue to diversify with a growing number of voters of color.
It is in this context and environment that today my organization—the Center for American Progress—and PolicyLink released All-In Nation: An America that Works for All; a new book that examines the material consequences of these shifting demographics. In addition to policy chapters, there are some great personal essays by the likes of author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander, actress America Ferrera, and president of the Children’s Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman. The book makes the case that in order to take advantage of our growing diversity; we must prevent existing inequalities from widening, aim to close them entirely, and recognize how increasing diversity should be understood as an economic opportunity to be fully embraced.
Don’t let some of the rhetoric coming from the right fool you. Our diversity is our country’s greatest resource. Diversity drives innovation, entrepreneurship and creates new markets. African American women currently own 1.1 million businesses, creating $44.9 billion in revenue; indeed minority-owned businesses are the fastest growing. And a more diverse workforce is shown to be more equitable. That’s not to say there aren’t potential problems ahead if we don’t tackle them now. Growing inequality facing communities of color runs deep—All-In Nation offers new data on existing and projected racial disparities in education, employment, infrastructure, health, education, the prison system and political participation
Some of the stats are startling, even to those who study these issues. For example, by 2018, 45 percent of all jobs will require an associate’s degree or higher, yet today only 27 percent of African Americans have that level of education. And as recent events shine a spotlight on the criminal justice system, it’s important to remember these troubling facts: African Americans account for roughly 40 percent of the prison population, even though they only account for 13 percent of the total population. And African American youth are 4.5 times more likely than white youth to be detained for the same crime.
So it’s true, these facts are disheartening. But they are not our fate. As the number of people of color increases, we must take an active role in mitigating these facts and control what happens to and in our communities. We must put pressure on our policymakers to recognize the assets that our communities bring to the table. All-In Nation lays the groundwork for federal policy recommendations that will create a more equitable economy and nation.
Communities of color stand to play a key role in shaping the economic future of the country, but it is also important that they be represented at decision making tables, be it in politics or in the boardroom. Numerous studies show the benefits of diversity across the board, yet if you look at many of our institutions, they still do not reflect the growing diversity of the nation. There is work to be done, but this is the beginning of the conversation. And it is important for our community to be actively engaged in it and not let the haters frame the coming changes as something negative. Our diversity is what makes us the nation that we are, and it is the growth of communities of color that will keep our nation economically competitive as other nations worry about how to replace their aging workers. We have a bright…and colorful…future to look forward to if we make the necessary investments today.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Senior Vice President for American Values and New Communities and Sarah Iverson is an intern with Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress. Follow Daniella on Twitter @dgibber123