Today's date:
Winter 1993

The Demography of a Dream

Henry Cisneros - Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

America is not declining. It is changing.

In the year 2000, 46 percent of the population of California will be Hispanic, Asian and black. In San Francisco County that figure will be 65 percent, mostly Asian. In Los Angeles, 11 minorities, mostly Hispanic, will account for 60 percent of the population. Even in traditional white, conservative bastions like Orange County, 40 percent of the population will be Hispanic and Asian. In San Diego, 40 percent of the population will be nonwhite, mostly Hispanic.

The most stunning statistic of all: 92 percent of Californians will live in counties where the "minority' population is more than 30 percent - a dimension that truly changes both the political and cultural complexion of a community.

Similar demographic changes are taking place in most central cities and metropolitan areas across this nation: Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Denver, Dallas, Houston, New York. These changes will, in time, alter not only the state of California as a whole, but also the other major anchor states of American political and economic life: New York, Illinois, Florida and Texas.

These demographic changes, largely the result of immigration, don't worry me. They may be the very source of the renewal of this country.

I would worry more about the future of America if the large immigrant and young minority populations were not here, and all we had was a classic, northern-hemispheric, advanced industrial nation with an aging white population and a birth dearth.

I would worry more about a nation with too few workers saddled with immense health-care and income-security costs for the aged. I would worry more about a country that had little future orientation because the heaviest voting bloc in the country - elderly whites - felt they already had their best day.

These things would worry me a great deal more than to see young Asians populating the West Coast and commanding the valedictory positions in high schools and colleges. Or young Hispanics with a strong faith in family values and the basic American ethic of hard work, and saving for the future.

Many people fall to see that the immigrants who come to America today, whether Asian or Hispanic, are predisposed to the American way of life. Immigrants come to America from other nations because they are dissatisfied with where they have lived. Those coming from Mexico, for example, have no inclination to go back because they have seen the fallacies and failures of other systems -economically, politically and in terms of personal freedom and upward mobility. Therefore, the commitment they are making to the United States is total.

That dedication brings with it the same kind of raw energy and talent that has characterized previous waves of immigration to America. These immigrants place a great premium on values that relate to the future. They have faith in the future -the most precious resource any nation can have.

Over time, the immigrants that settle here are fostering an important evolution in American culture. Traditional ethnic values are being matched to the new economy and American rationalism.

What we find in the Hispanic community is the melding of a certain "heart" to American rationalism. By "heart" I mean an affection for the extended family, compassionate values and a sense of sharing that is very deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition, a tradition that is almost synonymous with the Hispanic culture.

Those Catholic values are a useful leavening against the rootless, strictly rationalistic dimensions of American life. On the other hand, American life and education provides a Hispanic, for example, with a strong sense of discipline, management of time, respect for deadlines, mastery over routine and a results-orientation.

Contrary to the belief that this collision of values and principles is going to create cultural tension and confusion, in reality it produces a person who is a very complete human being. It produces a human being whose ability to cope with the essence of life-human trauma, pain, sharing and compassion - is matched with the imperative to succeed.

In some sense, what we are seeing in the Southwest is the development of a new culture.

I suspect the same kind of fusion is taking place within the Asian community, where Confucian values of the extended family and group loyalty are a leavening influence on the rootless rationalism that comes from the Protestant foundation of American society.

The identification of the model of a new culture in which people have sorted these things out is very useful for American society. Out of this cultural tension, I believe, comes a richness, even a higher order of human development.

By the year 2000, the dominant characteristic of this nation will be its ethnic heterogeneity. Hispanics will serve in the Senate. Blacks will serve as governors. An Asian will serve as president of Stanford University. Prestigious institutions like the Bohemian Grove will be composed of Hispanics, Asians and blacks. First Interstate Bank will be run by a woman.

By the year 2000, I see an American economy that manages, during the 1990s, to restore some of its basic industries. While the future economy will ride on the advantages of technology and research, it will be a diversified economy that stresses everything from tourism to urban redevelopment, from construction to retailing and financial services.

By the year 2000, America's share of Gross World Product will decline to a lower percentage, but we will still be the single most important force in the global economy. We will have an intertwined and productive relationship with Japan, and a Europe that will, by then, have been integrated for nearly a decade. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe will also be sizable trading partners of the U.S., Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, Indonesia and Malaysia will be active trading partners with America. Brazil will arrive as a world-class economic challenger to the advanced nations.

In short, America won't be a nation in decline, but a trading state interlinked in a consensus-oriented world economy. I say consensus because we will all learn the Japanese way in time. It is the only effective mechanism for organizing affairs in the globally intertwined economic and financial setting of a world with plural centers of power.

America' demographic trends do worry me a great deal, however, if we fail to educate America's rising population groups and if we fail to produce a growth economy.

A couple of years ago, then-Japanese prime minister Nakasone said that America would never be able to compete with the Japanese head-on in the next century because of its large population of blacks and Hispanics. He was properly criticized for that remark.

But had Nakasone altered the statement slightly he would have been correct. Had he said America will not be able to compete because it is failing to educate its large population of blacks and Hispanics, and as a result, America will have a large part of its population that is illiterate and underproductive - a permanent underclass - Nakasone would have been correct. Had he said that no nation can carry 10 or 15 or 20 Million people in an underclass and still remain competitive, he would have been correct.

This question transcends civil rights, Christian compassion and national ideals. The growth of a permanent underclass has reached the dimensions of an American survival issue. How does America compete in the world? How does America penetrate technological barriers? How does America keep civil order? How does America develop its middle class? How does America maintain its centrist political values? How do we do any of these things if we fail to bring our large and growing minority populations into the economic mainstream?

My concerns with economic growth have to do with the changing pattern of the distribution of income in this country In 1985, the top 20 percent of Americans earned 43 percent of the national income, the largest percentage earned by that group since World War 11. The bottom 20 percent earned only 4.7 percent of the national income, the smallest percentage in 25 years.

That suggests to me a new polarization along income lines that is a result, primarily, of a transformation in the American economy. We've lost millions of jobs paying $12 and $13 an hour and replaced them with millions paying $5 and $6 an hour. We've shipped millions of jobs offshore and continue to lose our basic industries.

And economic growth rates have fallen by half, exacerbating the industrial dislocation. In 1947, 33 percent of Americans lived under the poverty line. By 196o that number was down to 22 percent and by 1973 it reached its lowest point at it percent. Throughout this whole period, from 1947-1973, the American economy grew at an average rate of nearly 4 percent per year.

In the late 70s and early 80s, our growth rate has been 2 percent and below. As a result, poverty has begun to grow again. It's now back up around 15 percent.

This trend must not be allowed to develop further. A prosperous economy, whether national, regional or urban, is an essential precondition for creating a sense of upward mobility. It is the precondition for any social justice program. A job is clearly more effective than any poverty program.

To the extent that investment in education and economic growth is hampered by massive deficits, by a whopping trade deficit and by the loss of basic industry, much of what we must do to harness the new economy to meet both our demographic challenges and global competition is severely restricted. A recommitment to growth and education is vital to this nation's future.

Finally, there is a great danger that, absent the commitment to education, the demographic realities will collide with the economic trend of class polarization. That would result in a society in which politics as we have traditionally known it in this country will cease to function.

The US still has immense resources. It has a unique capability to draw on the energies of its people through the free-market system. The US still calls forth the loyalties and patriotic spirit of its people. With a commitment to harness the new economy for our rising population groups, and with leadership that believes in inclusiveness and consensus, this nation will prosper materially and enrich itself culturally.


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