(August 2008) Immigration and higher fertility among minorities have put the United States on a path to become "majority-minority," when less than 50 percent of the population will be non-Hispanic white. Racial and ethnic minorities,1 which currently account for one-third of the U.S. population, are projected to reach 50 percent by 2050. But new 2007 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that about 10 percent (302) of the country's 3,141 counties have already passed that mark.

Another 218 counties have reached the "tipping point" toward becoming majority-minority in the next few years: Between 40 percent and 50 percent of the population in those counties are minorities.

Majority-minority counties come in all types—from large counties in major metropolitan areas (such as the Bronx in New York City) to small rural counties (such as Todd County in South Dakota). The counties are highly concentrated in certain parts of the country (see Map 1)—in particular, the Southeast, the Southwest (especially along the Mexican border), central and Southern California, parts of the rural Great Plains, most of Alaska, and Hawaii.

In most majority-minority counties, a single minority group makes up more than 50 percent of the county population. But different minority groups are predominant in different areas of the country. For example, most of majority-minority counties in the Southeast are African American. Counties that are majority Hispanic are largely in the Southwest, as well as in southern Florida and parts of California. And American Indians are the majority group in several counties in Alaska, the Great Plains, and the "four corners" area of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah—many of which house reservations and trust lands. In other cases, the combination of two or more minority groups creates a majority-minority county. In 109 of the 302 majority-minority counties, no single minority group was a numerical majority.

Children and youth have long been at the forefront of the country's increasing racial and ethnic diversity. By looking at the racial and ethnic composition of youth, we get a glimpse of what the U.S. working-age population might look like in 20 years if current trends continue. In 2007, 43 percent of people under age 20 were racial and ethnic minorities, and there were 489 counties—about one in seven counties nationwide—where minorities made up at least 50 percent of the youth population. An additional 274 counties had minority youth populations between 40 percent and 50 percent, meaning that minority youth make up at least 40 percent of the under-20 population in nearly one in four counties (see Map 2, page 2 of PDF).

The growth in majority-minority counties is significant from an economic and policy standpoint also. Median household income was below $30,000 in 43 percent of the 302 counties identified as majority-minority in 2007, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates.2 Moreover, in 66 percent of majority-minority counties, at least one in five residents was poor.3 In the coming years, economic conditions could deteriorate in counties with growing minority concentrations unless opportunities in these areas improve.


Kelvin Pollard is a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau. Mark Mather is associate vice president for Domestic Programs at PRB.


References

  1. Minorities include blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and people of mixed race.
  2. The median household income was $46,242 in 2005. All income and poverty data come from the U.S. Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program, which is the most recent source of such data for every county in the United States.
  3. The national poverty rate was 13.3 percent in 2005.