The Gray And The Brown: The Generational MismatchA contrast in priorities is arising between nonwhite young voters and white, older voters.
In an age of diminished resources, the United States may be heading for an intensifying confrontation between the gray and the brown.
Two of the biggest demographic trends reshaping the nation in the 21st century increasingly appear to be on a collision course that could rattle American politics for decades. From one direction, racial diversity in the United States is growing, particularly among the young. Minorities now make up more than two-fifths of all children under 18, and they will represent a majority of all American children by as soon as 2023, demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution predicts.
At the same time, the country is also aging, as the massive Baby Boom Generation moves into retirement. But in contrast to the young, fully four-fifths of this rapidly expanding senior population is white. That proportion will decline only slowly over the coming decades, Frey says, with whites still representing nearly two-thirds of seniors by 2040.
These twin developments are creating what could be called a generational mismatch, or a "cultural generation gap" as Frey labels it. A contrast in needs, attitudes, and priorities is arising between a heavily (and soon majority) nonwhite population of young people and an overwhelmingly white cohort of older people. Like tectonic plates, these slow-moving but irreversible forces may generate enormous turbulence as they grind against each other in the years ahead.
Already, some observers see the tension between the older white and younger nonwhite populations in disputes as varied as Arizona's controversial immigration law and a California lawsuit that successfully blocked teacher layoffs this year at predominantly minority schools. The 2008 election presented another angle on this dynamic, with young people (especially minorities) strongly preferring Democrat Barack Obama, and seniors (especially whites) breaking solidly for Republican John McCain.
Over time, the major focus in this struggle is likely to be the tension between an aging white population that appears increasingly resistant to taxes and dubious of public spending, and a minority population that overwhelmingly views government education, health, and social-welfare programs as the best ladder of opportunity for its children. "Anything to do with children in the public arena is going to generate a stark competition for resources," Frey says.( Collapse )