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Elected officials, especially lawmakers, regularly get denounced for short-range vision. And for sure, there’s some truth to the accusation that, when they cast a vote or take a position, they have their eyes on the next party primary and the next general election, or whether it will cost them a choice committee assignment.

In truth, of course, we all tend to focus on our daily duties, near-term cares and concerns, our current job status or next career move. Dealing with immediate needs, challenges, and decisions diverts attention to, and saps energy from, looking to the horizon and beyond, to prepare for what the future holds.

“The scale of the race-ethnic transformation in the United States is stunning.”

Now comes an effort to nudge Americans — and especially their public policymakers — to consider the profound changes already in motion that will transform their country’s population profile. A new report, from a cross-ideology cluster of Washington-based think tanks, asks us to look not at the 2016 election year, but rather through the next four and a half decades to 2060.

“The scale of the race-ethnic transformation in the United States is stunning,” says the States of Change report. “In 1980, the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today, that proportion has fallen to 63 percent, and by 2060, it is projected to be less than 44 percent.”

By 2060, the authors project, 22 states, accounting for two-thirds of the country’s population, will have become majority-minority states — that is, whites below 50 percent, and a combination of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others making up a population majority. The report finds that North Carolina will become majority-minority in 2050.

The report identifies an array of rapidly growing “new Sun Belt states,’’ with a regional grouping in the mountain west and an eastern grouping of mostly Atlantic coastal states. North Carolina is placed in the “New Sun Belt-East,” along with Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. Here is a summary of the report’s analysis of North Carolina:

The white population, which was 77 percent of the state’s total in 1980, has dropped to 64 percent today. By 2060, whites should account for 46 percent of North Carolina’s total population, with Hispanics rising from 9 percent now to 18 percent, Asians from 6 percent today to 10 percent, and blacks from 22 percent to 26 percent.      

“Like Georgia and Virginia, it is becoming more racially diverse, with large Hispanic and black population gains; however, its white population share is dropping less quickly,” the report says of North Carolina. “It remains a destination for students, high-technology workers and retirees, and it holds attractions that promise continued dynamic change.”

“North Carolina’s age structure, contrary to Georgia’s and Virginia’s, is as old as the nation as a whole today, and in the future it will actually become somewhat older than the national average. In 2060, we predict that seniors will outnumber children by 25 percent to 20 percent. North Carolina’s children are currently 44 percent minority today and will be 59 percent minority by 2060.”

The particular prism of the report released last week has to do with analyzing the electorate, with figuring out the composition of, and differences between, eligible voters and actual voters in each state. This report does not specifically address education, but it certainly has implications for our schools, colleges, and universities.

This report does not specifically address education, but it certainly has implications for our schools, colleges, and universities.

The 20-year-olds in my classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be 65 years old in 2060. Their adult lives as citizens, professionals, entrepreneurs, journalists, parents, and perhaps political leaders will coincide with the profound shifts described in this report. The 9-year-olds in my daughter Lesley’s third grade classroom will be in their mid-50s in 2060, many of them surely having gained leadership in their businesses, professions and communities.

As a faculty member in a professional school, I spend a goodly amount of my time assisting undergraduate students apply for graduate school, obtain internships, and find their first jobs. First jobs are important, but this report, projecting out to 2060, suggests a fundamental weakness in the current political argument that North Carolina should orient education even more directly to filling jobs.

We should educate young people not specifically for their first or even second jobs. Rather, we need to define schooling as education for careers — for preparing youth and young adults for thriving in a world with far different demographic, technological, and economic profiles than the world in which my generation grew up.

The State of Change authors, from different ideological perspectives, conclude with an admonition that “public policy must adjust to the needs of a quite different America … Policies that actually solve social and economic problems, remedy education and labor-market deficiencies and provide avenues for upward mobility are the key to long-term political success.”

Are elected officials stuck in short-range thinking, hardly looking beyond 2016, in effect trying to defend or tweak what is, rather than preparing for what’s to come?

The report, thus, offers a way to assess the government in Raleigh — as well as Washington — over the course of this year. Are elected officials stuck in short-range thinking, hardly looking beyond 2016, in effect trying to defend or tweak what is, rather than preparing for what’s to come? Or is there anyone looking over the horizon so as to adjust public policy to “the needs of a quite different America” — and a quite different North Carolina?

The report, States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974-2060, is the product of a collaboration of the Center for American Progress, a think tank producing policy analysis for Democratic office-holders the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right organization often aligned with the Republican Party, and demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation supports the collaboration.

Ferrel Guillory

Ferrel Guillory is the Director of the Program in Public Life and Professor of the Practice at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and the Vice Chairman of EducationNC.