WASHINGTON - Welcome to the new off-white America.
A historic decline in the number of U.S. whites and the fast growth of Latinos are blurring traditional black-white color lines, testing the limits of civil-rights laws and reshaping political alliances as "whiteness" begins to lose its numerical dominance.
Long in coming, the demographic shift was most vividly illustrated in the re-election of President Obama despite a historically low percentage of white supporters.
It's now a potent backdrop to the immigration issue being debated in Congress that could offer a path to citizenship for 11 million mostly Hispanic illegal immigrants. Also, the Supreme Court is deciding cases this term on affirmative action and voting rights that could redefine race and equality in the U.S.
The latest census data and polling from The Associated Press highlight the historic change in a nation in which non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority somewhere around the year 2043.
Despite being a nation of immigrants, America's tip to a white minority has never occurred in its 237-year history and will be a first among the world's major post-industrial societies.
"The American experience has always been a story of color. In the 20th century it was a story of the black-white line. In the 21st century we are moving into a new off-white moment," says Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a global expert on immigration and dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.
"Numerically, the U.S. is being transformed. The question now is whether our institutions are being transformed," he said.
The shift is being driven by the modern wave of U.S. newcomers from Latin America and Asia. Their annual inflow of 650,000 people since 1965, at a rate that's grown in recent years, surpasses the pace of the last great immigration wave a century ago. That influx, from 1820 to 1920, brought in Irish, Germans, Italians and Jews from Europe and made the gateway of Ellis Island, N.Y., an immigrant landmark.
An equal factor is today's aging white population, mostly baby boomers, whose coming wave of retirements will create a need for first- and second-generation immigrants to help take their place.
The numbers already demonstrate that being white is fading as a test of American-ness:
• More U.S. babies are now born to minorities than whites, a milestone reached last year.
• More than 45 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are minorities. The Census Bureau projects that in five years the number of nonwhite children will surpass 50 percent.
• The District of Columbia, Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas have minority populations greater than 50 percent. By 2020, eight more states are projected to join the list: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey and New York. Latinos already outnumber whites in New Mexico; California will tip to a Latino plurality next year.
• By 2039, racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the U.S. working-age population, helping to support a disproportionately elderly white population through Social Security and other payroll taxes. More than 1 in 4 people ages 18-64 will be Latino.
Brazil's mix of racial openness, exclusion / A16