Over the course of our study of American history, we’ve learned a lot about different groups of people who have shaped our country’s history. Native Americans, immigrants, minorities fighting for equal rights, and young people, are just a few of the groups we’ve studied. However, the future of our country will be shaped by the people who are here now, not by those who have gone before us.
So, who are the American people? It turns out that we are quite different from the Americans who have come before us, and we will be quite different in the coming years. Additionally, it’s worth asking how the different generations that make up our nation’s population are different from one another, and how that will impact us going forward. A lot has changed in the past 50 years, and those changes have shaped our outlook, willingness to take risks, and values. As we look to the future, we should ask ourselves who we are.
A CHANGING POPULATION
The United States is the third most populous country in the world, with a population of approximately 331 million in 2020. However, it only makes up about 4.5% of the world’s population. While the United States has more than doubled its number of people since 1950, it still pales in comparison to the two most populous countries in the world, China and India.
As it is growing, the United States is experiencing significant demographic changes. One of the most notable changes is the ethnic and racial breakdown of the population. White Americans, who have historically been the majority, are projected to fall below 50% of the population by around 2050, at which point the country will be a minority-majority nation. Six states are already majority-minority as of 2019: Hawaii, New Mexico, California, Texas, Nevada, and Maryland. Despite the overall growth of minority populations, Whites are expected to continue to be the majority of the elderly population. On the other hand, Hispanics are growing in proportion and are projected to make up about 25% of the population by 2050. The other ethnic and racial groups in the United States are mostly stable, but there is a significant increase in mixed-race Americans, which is expected to reach 20% by 2050.
Primary Source: Chart
The ethnic breakdown of the US population as of the 2020 Census shows that the country remains a White majority nation, although predictions indicated that the White portion of the country will fall below 50% around 2050.
Immigration has been a significant part of the United States’ history, with millions of people from around the world coming to the country to start a new life. While immigration has ebbed and flowed as the country has been more or less open to outsiders, immigration is today a major driver of demographic change.
The current American policy on permanent immigration is based on four principles: the reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with special skills, the protection of refugees, and the diversity of admissions by country of origin. These principles are rooted in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the previous national-origin quotas system and established a new immigration policy that focused on family reunification and skilled immigration.
The reunification of families is an important principle of American immigration policy, as it allows citizens and permanent residents to sponsor certain family members for immigration to the United States. This principle recognizes the importance of family ties and allows families to be reunited in the United States. The admission of immigrants with special skills is another important principle, as it helps to fill critical labor shortages and drive innovation in the United States. This principle allows American employers to sponsor foreign workers with specialized skills or knowledge for temporary or permanent employment in the United States.
The protection of refugees is also a key principle of immigration policy. The United States is committed to providing a safe haven for refugees who are fleeing persecution, war, or violence in their home countries. The government’s refugee program is designed to identify and assist refugees who are in need of protection and resettlement in the United States.
The diversity of admissions by country of origin is the final principle of immigration policy. This principle recognizes the importance of diversity in American society and allows for a range of immigrants from different countries and backgrounds to enter the United States. The diversity principle ensures that the United States continues to be a melting pot of cultures and ideas.
The leading source countries for legal immigrants in 2009 were Mexico, China, the Philippines, India, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Vietnam. These countries accounted for over 40% of all legal immigrants to the United States in that year. The primary destination states for legal immigrants in 2009 were California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey. These six states accounted for over 60% of all legal immigrants to the United States in that year. Ten metropolitan areas were the intended residence of 57% of all legal immigrants in 2009, with the New York City region, Los Angeles area and Miami area being the leading destinations.
Immigration has been a significant driver of population growth in the United States, with one-third of the country’s population growth due to immigration. Legal immigration to the United States has been influenced by several legal changes over the years, including the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished national-origin quotas, and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which established penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers. In 2007, a comprehensive immigration reform bill was introduced in the Senate, but it failed to pass.
The issue of immigration remains a contentious and complex one in the United States. While there is broad consensus around the principles of family reunification, skilled immigration, refugee protection, and diversity, there is disagreement over the specific policies and programs that should be put in place to achieve these goals. Some argue that the current legal immigration system is too restrictive and should be expanded, while others argue that it should be tightened to reduce illegal immigration. The issue of immigration is likely to remain a key policy area for debate and discussion in the United States in the years to come.
Secondary Source: Map
This map clearly indicates that immigration to the United States is now much more ethnically diverse than it was before the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965.
Throughout the history of the United States, immigration has been a central issue that has sparked both debates and conflicts. Despite the principles of family reunification, skilled immigration, refugee protection, and diversity that guide immigration policy, there have been moments of intense nativism in the country’s history. Nativism is a political ideology that promotes the interests of native-born or established inhabitants of a country over those of immigrants or newcomers. In the past 30 years, the United States has experienced several instances of nativism that have contributed to tensions and divisions within society.
One example of nativism in the United States is Prop 187 in California. The ballot initiative was passed in 1994 and aimed to deny public services to undocumented immigrants. Prop 187 would have prevented undocumented immigrants from accessing public education, non-emergency healthcare, and other services. The initiative was widely seen as discriminatory and unconstitutional, and it was challenged in court. In the end, a federal judge issued an injunction against Prop 187, and it was never implemented. However, the initiative highlighted the nativist sentiments that existed in California and other parts of the country.
Another example of nativism in the United States is the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anti-Asian hate crimes have increased dramatically since the pandemic began, with verbal harassment, physical assault, and even murder targeting Asian Americans. Many of these hate crimes have been attributed to the false belief that Asian Americans are responsible for the spread of COVID-19. This is just one example of how fear and misinformation can lead to discrimination and violence against immigrants and minority groups.
The rise of far-right parties in Europe and anti-refugee sentiment in various parts of the world have contributed to nativism in the United States. The Trump administration’s policies, such as the Muslim Ban, the border wall with Mexico, and family separation at the border, were seen by many as nativist. The Alt-Right movement, characterized by white nationalist and nativist beliefs, also gained attention during the 2016 presidential campaign and has since been associated with hate crimes and violence.
Nativism in the United States is not a new phenomenon, and it has been present throughout the country’s history. However, it is important to recognize that nativism is a divisive and harmful ideology that undermines the principles of democracy and equality that the United States was founded upon. The United States has always been a country of immigrants, and it is through the contributions of immigrants that the country has become the vibrant and diverse nation that it is today. It is essential to uphold the values of inclusion, respect, and compassion towards all immigrants and to reject any form of nativism or discrimination.
Primary Source: Photograph
Demonstrators hold signs protesting President Trumps anti-immigrant policies.
Internal migration refers to the movement of people within a country’s borders. The United States has a long history of internal migration, with people moving from one region of the country to another in search of better opportunities, more favorable climates, or for other reasons. The Okies of the 1930s and the growth of suburbs in the 1950s are two examples of internal migration. One notable trend in internal migration in recent decades has been the movement of people from the North to the South.
The Sunbelt refers to the region in the southern and western parts of the United States, which has seen significant population growth in recent decades. This trend began in the post-World War II era when many people moved to the Sunbelt for jobs and better weather. Many of the Sunbelt states, such as Florida and Arizona, have warm climates that are attractive to retirees and other people looking to escape the cold winters of the North. The growth of the Sunbelt has also coincided with the availability of air conditioning. Additionally, the growth of industries such as technology and finance in cities like Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia, has contributed to the Sunbelt’s appeal. Phoenix, Arizona is currently the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, increasing in size by 11% between 2010 and 2020.
Another trend in internal migration is the phenomenon of Snowbirds. These are people who live in the northern part of the country during the warmer months and then move south for the winter. Many of these Snowbirds are retirees or people with vacation homes in warmer climates such as Florida, Arizona and California.
Military bases are also a significant driver of internal migration, with many bases located in the southern part of the country where a lack of snow makes year-round operations easier. The military is one of the largest employers in the country, and the location of military bases can have a significant impact on local economies. Many service members and their families choose to stay in the area around the base after their service ends, contributing to population growth in these areas.
Changes in the economy, including the closing of factories in the Rust Belt have also contributed to the shift of America’s population southward toward new opportunities that don’t revolve around manufacturing.
The shift in population from the North to the South has also been reflected in politics. The South has traditionally been more conservative than the North, and this has translated into political power. Southern states and leaders from the South are playing an increasingly influential role in shaping the country’s policies.
At the same time that the Sunbelt has grown because of internal migration from the North, it has also been augmented by immigration, especially by Hispanics, coming northward from Latin America. Often Northern Whites moving south and Hispanic immigrants moving north have conflicting values, cultures and political opinions, making the Sunbelt one of the most politically dynamic regions of the nation.
Secondary Source: Map
This map shows the area of the country often referred to as the Sunbelt. Warm and growing, the Sunbelt includes some of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Miami.
THE BABY BOOMERS
The Baby Boomers are a generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964, making them the largest generation in American history up to that point with approximately 76 million people. The children of the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers were born after World War II when there was a surge in births due to returning soldiers and an improving economy. Baby Boomers grew up during the 1950s and 1960s, a time of social and political change.
As a generation, the Baby Boomers had a significant impact on American culture and society. They were known for their optimism and idealism, and many of them became leaders in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the feminist movement. They were known for having a significant generation gap with their parents because of the huge differences in experiences they had as children and their willingness to experiment with new ways of living and thinking.
In terms of their attitude toward government, Baby Boomers were initially very trusting and supportive of the government during the post-war period of prosperity. However, this trust eroded in the 1960s and 1970s due to the Vietnam War, civil rights protests, and the Watergate scandal. Many Baby Boomers became disillusioned with the government and developed a more skeptical outlook.
Prominent Boomer leaders in politics include Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, while in business, Boomers such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey became pioneers in the fields of technology, entertainment, and business. In fact, Baby Boomers are often credited with inventing the internet, personal computers and cell phones, which have changed the world as we know it.
As the population of the United States continues to age, there has been a significant increase in the number of people over the age of 65. This trend is expected to continue as the Baby Boomer generation enters retirement age. According to the Census Bureau, there were 52 million people over the age of 65 in 2018, accounting for approximately 16% of the total population. This number is expected to grow to over 95 million by 2060, accounting for approximately 23% of the total population.
The increase in the number of centenarians, or individuals over the age of 100, is also a notable trend. In 1980, there were only 32,000 centenarians in the United States. By 2030, this number is expected to reach 130,000 and by 2060, it is projected to reach 600,000.
The overall increase in the population of Americans who are retired has led to the term silver tsunami, as the aging population puts a strain on healthcare and social security systems. While this term has been criticized as ageist, since it emphasizes the negative effects the aging population might have, there can be no doubt that having a huge number of retired Americans who are living longer and longer than their parents ever did, will have an impact on the country.
Secondary Source: Chart
The population pyramid of the United States as of 2016. The Baby Boomers can clearly be seen as a bump in the population of people in their 60s on this chart.
Gen X, which most demographers and researchers consider those born between 1965 and 1980, is the last generation of Americans who were born before computers, cellphones and the internet became widespread. This means that they experienced a world that was vastly different from the one we know today. They grew up in a time when people used typewriters and rotary phones, and computers were large, clunky machines found only in research labs and big corporations. Because of this, Gen X has a unique perspective on technology and the impact it has on society. They are able to understand the benefits of modern technology while also recognizing its potential drawbacks.
Gen Xers are approaching the middle of their working careers and potential peak earning years. They came of age during the 1970s and 80s. Families with two working parents, single-parent households, and divorce were becoming more common, and many Gen Xers had to learn to be self-sufficient at an early age. This experience has made them more independent and self-reliant than previous generations. They are also more likely to rebel against authority and question established norms and traditions.
Despite their skepticism and independent nature, many Gen Xers are emerging as leaders in both business and politics. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos are just a few examples of successful entrepreneurs who belong to this generation. Barack Obama, the first Black President of the United States, is another prominent Gen X leader. He is known for his progressive policies and his ability to inspire young people to get involved in politics. Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been praised for his inclusive leadership style and his efforts to promote diversity and social justice. These examples suggest that Gen X’s unique perspective and resilience are valuable assets in leadership roles.
The Millennials, also known as Gen Y, includes individuals born between 1981 and 1996. They are considered to be the first digital natives, having grown up with computers and the internet. Millennials became adults around the time of the new millennium, and as a result, they are often associated with a sense of optimism, ambition, and technological savvy.
Born well after the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act was passed, the Millennials grew up in a much more diverse America than their predecessors. As a result, Millennials value diversity and inclusivity and are more accepting of different backgrounds and cultures.
Another notable trait of millennials is their pro-government stance. Compared to older generations, millennials express greater confidence in the federal government’s ability to solve problems. They believe in the power of collective action and are often politically engaged.
The Great Recession and War on Terror shaped millennials’ early experiences, as many graduated from college during a difficult job market. This led to a sense of financial insecurity and a general pessimism about the future. However, despite these challenges, millennials are known for their positive attitude toward business and their drive to work toward achieving their goals.
Gen Z, also known as Zoomers, refers to individuals born between 1997 and 2012. This generation is unique in that the mean average age of first-time mothers has been on the rise, currently at 25 years old. The rise in age is a reflection of a shift in societal attitudes towards starting families, with more emphasis placed on education and career advancement.
Gen Z is a generation that has grown up in a time of great social and political upheaval. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has had a significant impact on their lives, with many experiencing the stress and grief that comes with losing loved ones, unemployment, and interrupted learning. Despite these challenges, Gen Z remains optimistic about the future and has been active in social justice movements such as the Black Lives Matter protests and environmentalism.
Social media has played a significant role in shaping the worldview of Gen Z, with platforms like TikTok and Instagram offering a window into the lives of others. This generation grew up with technology and can’t remember a time before smartphones. This proficiency with technology has made them adept at adapting to changing circumstances and finding new ways to connect with one another.
Gen Z is also a generation that is outspoken and passionate about issues such as LGBTQ rights. They are more open and accepting of diverse identities than previous generations, and many have been vocal advocates for equality. Despite this progress, the generation still faces stress, with 35% frequently experiencing it. However, this stress has also led to a focus on emotional intelligence and mental health, making them one of the most compassionate and empathetic generations yet.
In terms of leadership, Gen Z has already produced several prominent figures, including Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist, and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education activist. Additionally, athletes like Simone Biles, who is considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, and Billie Eilish, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, have become cultural icons for their generation.
In conclusion, Gen Z is a generation that has grown up in a world of rapid change and uncertainty. They are technologically savvy, socially conscious, and passionate about creating a more equitable world. Despite the challenges they face, they remain optimistic about the future and have the potential to become one of the most intelligent and influential generations in history.
Secondary Source: Chart
The youngest generations of Americans have had a significant impact already on social policy, especially surrounding acceptance of LGBTQ Americans.
Generation Alpha, the generation born after Gen Z, is typically defined as those born from 2010 to 2025. They are the children of Gen X and Millennials. They are the first generation to be born entirely in the 21st century and are often referred to as digital natives. This generation has grown up in a world where technology is ubiquitous, and they are comfortable with it from a very young age. In fact, one of the defining characteristics of Gen Alpha is their connection to technology. They are more tech-savvy than any generation before them and incredibly comfortable using devices from a young age, often understanding how to use mobile devices and apps before learning to read.
Although the future of Generation Alpha is still unknown, as they are still very young, it is expected that they will be heavily influenced by the events and trends of their time, just as previous generations have been shaped by the events and trends of their own eras. As they grow up, we may begin to see some of the defining characteristics of this generation become more apparent. With their technological proficiency and unique experiences, they may bring about changes and advancements in various fields. It will be interesting to see how they navigate a world that is constantly changing and evolving. While we can only speculate about the future of Generation Alpha, it is clear that they will continue to be shaped by the ever-increasing role of technology in our lives.
So, we Americans are a varied and changing group of people. We are rapidly becoming more ethnically diverse, and more ethnically mixed. We are getting older and living longer, but as the Baby Boomers retire and younger generations take over leadership roles, our priorities and perspectives are changing. We’re also moving, southward to be precise, and the shifting of our population centers will also shift our politics and culture. As we move into the future and approach new opportunities and challenges, we can take this moment to take stock of who we are today, and who we expect to be in the years to come.
Who are the Americans?
BIG IDEA: The population of the United States is undergoing significant change. Since the 1960s, immigration and internal migration from North to South have reshaped the ethnic makeup and distribution of our population. The country is projected to be a majority-minority country by 2050. That change, along with new values held by younger Americans who are digital natives and the retirement of the Baby Boomers will have significant impacts on the culture and politics of the country.
Immigration continues to play a significant role in demographic changes. Since 1965, immigration policy has favored family reunification, admitting immigrants with special skills, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.
Immigration remains a politically divisive issue. Nativists have promoted anti-immigrant policies such as Prop 187 in California which, had it passed, would have prevented undocumented immigrants from attending school, and the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic are examples.
Internal migration has also reshaped America. The growth of the Sunbelt is being driven by warmer climates, new job opportunities, snowbirds, retirees, military bases, and job losses in the Rust Belt. The increase in population in the South has also led to political and cultural change.
The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, grew up during a time of social and political change, with many joining the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. They are skeptical of the government after living through the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal. As they retire, there are growing concerns about the strain this unprecedented number of aging Americans will place on the healthcare and social security systems.
Gen X, born between 1965 and 1980, is the last generation of Americans to grow up before computers and cellphones were common. Known for their independence, self-reliance, and tendency to question authority, Gen X is poised to take over leadership of the country as the Boomers retire.
Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and are considered to be the first digital natives. They value diversity and inclusivity and express confidence in the federal government’s ability to solve problems and are often politically engaged. Despite growing up in challenging economic times, they are known for their positive attitude toward business and their drive to work toward achieving their goals.
Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, are technologically savvy. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on their lives, but despite the challenges, they remain optimistic about the future and are active in social justice movements. Gen Z is also a generation that is outspoken and passionate about issues such as LGBTQ rights and mental health.
PEOPLE AND GROUPS
Refugee: A person who has to leave their home to escape persecution, war, or violence.
Snowbirds: Retirees who live in the North but spend their winters in Florida or other southern states.
Baby Boomers: Americans born between 1946 and 1964, during a period of high birth rates in the United States. They came of age during the 1960s and 1970s and make up the bulk of America’s retirees.
Gen X: The generation of Americans born between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s. They are now at the prime working ages of their lives and are emerging as the nation’s leaders. They were the last generation to grow up before computers and the Internet are common.
Millennials: The generation of Americans born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s. They are now young adults and are the first generation to grow up with computers and cell phones.
Gen Z: The generation of Americans born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. High schoolers today are part of this generation.
Generation Alpha: The generation of Americans born after 2010. The term is still relatively new and is used to describe the children of millennials and Gen Zers.
Digital Natives: People who have grown up using digital technology, such as computers and smartphones, from a young age. The term is often used to describe millennials, Gen Zers, and members of Generation Alpha.
Minority-Majority: A situation when the largest group within a population makes up less than 50% of the overall population. By 2050 Whites, currently the majority of Americans, are expected to make up less than 50% of the total population making the United States a majority-minority country.
Reunification: A policy of allowing immigrants to come to the United States if they already have family members legally living in the country. The policy is aimed at keeping families together.
Nativism: A belief that people born in the United States are superior to immigrants.
Alt-Right Movement: A movement of various far-right groups that emphasizes white nationalism and anti-Semitism. These groups have grown in public exposure during the presidency of Donald Trump..
Internal Migration: The movement of people inside a country from one region to another.
Silver Tsunami: A term that describes the aging of the Baby Boomer generation and the impact that this will have on society, such as on healthcare and other social services. It has been criticized as being ageist.
Border Wall: A nickname for the physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border that was a key proposal of candidate Trump during the 2018 presidential election.
Sunbelt: A region in the southern and southwestern United States that has experienced significant population growth in recent decades. The region is known for its warm climate and economic opportunities.
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: Major revision to immigration law passed in 1965 that eliminated national quotas and instead encouraged family reunification. It led to a tremendous increase in immigration from Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Prop 187: A 1994 ballot initiative in California, which would have stopped undocumented immigrants from being able to use some public services including education and healthcare. An example of nativist sentiment, the proposal was controversial and did not pass.
Muslim Ban: Nickname for Executive Order 13769, which was signed by President Donald Trump in 2017. The order restricted entry into the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and was widely criticized for being discriminatory.