This is the starting point of how elections get decided. This stuff fascinates me. (Since WordPress is having ‘issues’ today let me alert you that this article came from The Economist, November 20th, and is titled “One Nation Divisible.)
America’s young and old are differentiated not just by region but by race. Hispanic immigrants in particular are helping to swell the ranks of the young. The decade saw America’s foreign-born population grow by 24%, or about 7.4m. In 2009 Hispanics comprised 21% of those younger than 25; those 65 and older were 80% white and only 7% Hispanic.
But this divide—what William Frey of the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, calls “the cultural generation gap”—is very much wider in some states and cities. In Arizona, for example, 83% of the elderly are white and 42% of those under 25 are Hispanic. This can lead to divergent priorities, such as the reluctance of the old to pay for education, or even a political eruption. This year Arizona’s anti-immigration ordinance sparked protests far beyond the state’s borders and a lawsuit from the federal government.
Such conflict may well be replicated as other places welcome (or fail to) new residents. Immigrants are increasingly dispersed, settling in areas unused to outsiders. South Carolina’s Hispanic population expanded by 116% between 2000 and 2009. South Dakota, Tennessee and Alabama also saw big jumps.
In the long term, these immigrants or their children may become local economic stars. In the short term, tension is mounting. Mr Frey found that many of the new magnet states attract immigrants unlikely to speak English or to have completed school. Voters in such communities may view immigration rather differently than do those in San Francisco or Pittsburgh, hubs for skilled, foreign-born workers.
There is also a range of subtler shifts. In his 2008 book “The Big Sort”, Bill Bishop argues that communities are differentiated not just by demography but by the way people live. In the 1960s and 1970s communities on the whole grew ever more alike. But since the 1980s they have diverged on a range of indicators, from the age at which women have children to the age at which residents die. The most powerful “sort”, however, may be the slow concentration of educated workers.
America as a whole is becoming better educated. In 2000 24% of those 25 and older had a bachelors degree or more. By 2009 28% did. But this rise is not uniform across ethnic groups—blacks and Hispanics are lagging—or throughout the country. In the 1970s America’s college graduates were distributed relatively equally among cities. Since then, however, the skill-level of metropolitan areas has diverged. Brookings ranks the 100 biggest metropolitan areas by rate of educational attainment. The gap between the most and least educated cities was 26 in points in 1990. By 2009 it had widened to 34 points.
These trends, if they continue, will surely affect regional prosperity. From 1999 to 2009 median household income rose in only five states, and in four of these the gains were driven by soaring commodity prices. The biggest drops in income were all in states that depend on low-skill industries: Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.