In December 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the results of Census 2010 – the resident population of the United State is now 308,745,538.  As additional data from the Census 2010 are released, six disruptive demographic trends of the new millennium are expected to be confirmed.   A report released by University of North Carolina Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise presents these trends and the challenges they pose for the nation’s future.  I suggest that these six disruptive demographic trends will also impact who Extension’s future audience will be and how we will deliver relevant and meaningful programs.

Deb Maddy
Deb Maddy, Associate Provost Outreach and Enagement, Associate Director Extension

1. The South has Risen, but the West is Close Behind

Between 2000 and 2009, the U.S. population increased by an estimated 24.8 million.  Slightly more than half (51.4 percent) of this growth was concentrated in the South.  The West captured roughly one third of the nation’s net growth during this period.  Migration has played a major role in the West’s net population growth since 2000, with blacks and foreign born leading the way.


2. The “Browning” of America

Supporting the geographic redistribution of the U.S. population are changes in the complexion of U.S. society, driven by immigration and non-white population growth.  Report author James H. Johnson, Jr., referred to this shift as the “browning” of America.  Between 2000 and 2009, non-whites groups – Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and people of two or more races – accounted for an estimated 85 percent of U.S. net population growth.  Assuming continued levels of immigration and current fertility rates among non-Hispanic whites and non-white ethic groups,  it is estimated that the non-Hispanic white population will likely fall below 50 percent by 2050.


3. Marrying Out is “In”

A significant increase in marriage across racial and ethnic lines is another contributing  factor to the browning of America.  Recent research by the Pew Hispanic Center indicates that the out-marriage rate (i.e., percent of individuals marrying someone of a different race or ethnicity) has doubled since 1980. The Pew study also states that 41 percent of intermarriages in 2008 were between Hispanics and whites, 15 percent were between Asians and whites, and 11 percent were between blacks and whites.  Intermarriage is correlated with the level of school completed, with highest rates for newlywed who had attended college.  Individuals self-identifying as members of two or more races is a reflection of intermarriage trends and provide additional evidence of how the complexion of U.S. society is changing.


4. The Silver Tsunami is About to Hit

The nation is aging, especially the native-born population.  The “graying” of America is driven in part by positive changes in lifestyles and by health care advances.  However, the main driver is the aging of the baby-boomer population – the huge cohort born between 1946 and 1964.  On January 1, 2011, the first baby boomer turned 65 and set into motion what demographers refer to as the “silver tsunami.”  As baby boomers exit the workforce over the next 20 years, many will become dependent on Social Security and Medicare.


5. Men at Risk?

Over the past decade, changes in the U.S. economy have affected the employment prospects of American workers, especially males (Cavanaugh, 2010).  Men have been more adversely affected because they are concentrated in economic sectors such as manufacturing and construction, which have faced automation, foreign competition and economic downturn.  Women, in comparison, are concentrated in economic sectors such as government (including public education) and health services, which experienced growth in spite of the recession and are projected to be among the fastest-growing sectors in the next decade.  Among other forces, men’s level of educational attainment impacts their employment aspects.  For the graduating class of 2010, more degrees – associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, professional and doctorate, were awarded women.  The male-female wage gap is at its narrowest point in history.


6. Grandma’s is Home

Grandparent-headed households raising grandchildren is another disruptive demographic trend related to the economic realities and increasing rates of family dissolution.  Grandparents are increasingly providing their grandchildren, and in some instances, the fathers and/or mothers of their grandchildren, with emotional and financial support.  Between 2001 and 2010, the number of children living in grandparent-headed households increased by 26.1 percent.  The added responsibility of taking care of their grandchildren imposes social, psychological, physical and financial strain on grandparent-headed households, but is especially challenging for grandmother-only-headed households, who are far more likely to have incomes below the poverty level than other family types.

These six disruptive demographic trends highlight the multiple and complex ways the U.S. population is rapidly changing.  The U.S. population is far different today in terms of geographical distribution, racial and ethnic composition, age mix, family types and economic circumstance than it was a decade ago.  There is little double that these ongoing changes will dramatically transform our nation’s social, economic and political institutions.

Is Extension ready to take on the challenges that these trends pose for the community?  Perhaps your community isn’t facing all six trends, but my guess is that at least two and probably as many as four are causing your community to evaluate current services and opportunities.  What is Extension’s role in helping to find solutions?  Building on this rich source of secondary data, is it time to conduct a community needs assessment to determine what are the issues facing the community?  And then, working with community leaders, how can Extension and the University best meet the community’s expectations?

Some possible outcomes include:  A new array of culturally and age-appropriate educational products and services will be needed to serve our aging and diversifying populations.  The University will need to play a role in nurturing and growing entrepreneurial acumen among the audiences served, becoming more outward-oriented to focus on community needs and demonstrate commitment to engagement.  As society has aged on one hand and become more diverse on the other, Extension can bring the two populations together to build on the skills and talents of each for a prosperous and productive community.  Access to education will be a key factor for all affected populations.

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