Youth Demographic Trends

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The United States has a complex and rapidly changing population and is fortunate in having analytical tools such as the U.S. Census, which is compiled each decade, and the Current Population Survey, which is compiled every year. Thomas Jefferson directed the first census in 1790, implementing the Constitution's provision that each state add or lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on changes in their populationthe major reason why the census has such a powerful political and economic impact. The first census showed that 95 percent of Americans lived on farms or in rural areas. In the early twenty-first century, more than half of the U.S. population lives in the suburbs (which were unknown in Jefferson's time), a quarter are in large cities, and a quarter live in small towns and rural areas. Every census since 1790 has seen a change in the racial categories being profiled, from Jefferson's "free males, free females, slaves, and others," which included "mulattos," to the current complex mélange of races, ethnic groups, and national origins. However, through the end of the twentieth century, the census has always forced people to select only one racial category, creating a good deal of confusion. The first time people could admit that they were of mixed racial ancestry was in Census 2000.

General Population Trends

In 1900, the average American was only twenty-one years of age, while in 2000 the average age was thirty-seven. The average person lived for only forty-seven years in 1900, while in 2000 the average U.S. citizen lived to be nearly seventy-eighta life expectancy increase of nearly two-thirds in only a century. Much of this increase has come from the elimination of childhood diseases through vaccination, safe drinking water, and public health measures. In 2000, about seven babies in 1,000 died in the United States; while in New York City in 1900, for every baby born, another baby died. (In 1861 in London, Charles Dickens reported that half the funerals were for children under ten.)

In the twentieth-first century, most Americans are living longer, though the average white female in the United States (and in the world) currently has only 1.7 children over her lifetime, not enough to replace the population, which requires 2.1 childrenenough to replace one's mother and father (the.1 covers infant mortality). Almost all developed nations have fertility rates below replacement levels, signaling both rapid aging and population declines. (In 2030 there will be only two workers per retiree in the United States, while in Italy there will be only seven-tenths of a worker per retireemeaning more retirees than workers.) The United States has an advantage over other developed countries due to its large and growing population of immigrants and minorities. Young families from these groups have much higher fertility rates than the older white population, keeping the U.S. population more youthful. While the average white female in the United States gives birth to 1.7 children over her lifetime, the average black female gives birth to 2.6 children and the average Hispanic female gives birth to 3.0 children (as of 2000), a situation referred to as differential fertility.

World Population

In the early twenty-first century, the human species consists of about 6.1 billion people, with 95 percent of the population growth occurring in developing nations. Throughout the world, women are having fewer babies, but in the developing nations the decline may be from six to four babies per female, still enough for population growth. In 2100, the human species will stabilize at 11 billion people, and most humans will have aged out of the childbearing years. The developed nations of Europe, Asia, and the Americas will account for less than 2 percent of the world's population in 2100. Those born in 2000 will have a good chance of being there, if life expectancy continues to increase throughout the world. Characteristics of the split between rich and poor in 2100 are not predictable, but will likely define the human species.

American Demographics

There is a demographic principle that states that nothing is equally distributed across the nationnot race, not age, not wealth, not religion, not jobs. For example, Census 2000 put the U.S. population at 281 million, but California has 33 million people and Wyoming has only half a million. This means that the difference between the biggest and smallest state in terms of population is increasing. Additionally, more than half of the 281 million live in only ten states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, and Georgia), and a third live in only nine metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, the District of Columbia, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, and Dallas). Hispanics are the fastest growing minority, yet 90 percent live in only ten states. Only 5 percent of Utah's people are over age sixty-five; while 18 percent of Floridians are over age sixty-five. Such statistics mean that federal policies will be increasingly difficult to apply identically in each state, and state policies will be increasingly difficult to apply equitably in each county.

These differences are often studiously ignored. For example, the Department of Education's main compendium, Conditions of Education, 2001, contains more than 300 tables and graphs, but not a single one presents data using state or county comparisons. However, nonfederal educational publications (and the U.S. Census) are full of state education comparisons, which are essential to understanding the nation.

An Aging America

It is true that America is a rapidly aging societyyoung people have steadily declined as a percentage of all Americans. In the early twenty-first century, less than a quarter of U.S. households have a child of public school age (five to eighteen). At the upper end, there are 34.5 million Americans over age sixty-five, and the 72 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are between thirty-eight and fifty-six years of age, poised to create the biggest increase in retirees in history, beginning in 2011 and ending in 2028, although many are retiring before and after age 65, a trend that will continue. However, sixty-five no longer signals the onset of severe physical decline, which now happens mainly in the seventies, suggesting that baby boomers will not retire and remain retired permanently as has been the pattern. About a quarter of the baby boom generation will live past age eighty-five. Their retirement experience may include part-time work, starting a small business, a little travel, time with family, gardening, golf, volunteeringin other words, they plan to give nothing up in their "senior" years. However, there are severe implications for schools if this population of 70 million voters decides that support for public schools is not in their self-interest.

Family Changes

Children are being brought up in very different family patterns compared to a few decades ago23 percent of all children live only with their mothers, a figure that rises to 51 percent for African-American children. The biggest change is from a preponderance of divorced mothers to an equal number of never-married single mothers and divorced mothers. Four percent of children live with just their father, and 3 million children are being raised by their grandparents, with no parents present. About 75 percent of preschool children have working mothers, making quality day care a major component of the education agenda. In addition, the Census Bureau's definition of family and parent was not appropriate for the number of children being raised by two parents of the same sex, in a gay or lesbian relationship. Census 2000 figures also indicated a small decline in the number of children being raised by single mothers and a larger decline in single mothers with two or more children.

The Role of Race

Ethnic diversity in the United States is also increasing, and one surprise in the Census 2000 numbers was the rapid increase in the number of Hispanics to 35 million, surpassing the number of African Americans (34.7 million). However, of the 7 million people of mixed race, 2 million indicated that they were black and some other race. It is not entirely clear how such people should be countedif they are counted as black only, the total number of African Americans would jump to almost 37 million, but then what would happen to their other racial composition? Hispanics are not a race but an ethnic group, which is extremely difficult to define, so that all Hispanics are forced to choose at least one race on the census form. While most chose white in 2000, there were 3 million black Hispanics in the nation. There are, in fact, no physical qualities that define Hispanics, not even language15 percent of California's Hispanics do not speak Spanish. If to these are added American Indian/Eskimos (2.4 million, plus 300,000 mixed Indian/Hispanics) and Asians (almost 11 million), minorities are about 30 percent of the U.S. population, and almost 40 percent of those under eighteen are minorities.

Census projections for 2050 show that 50 percent of Americans will be members of minority groups, though the term will be meaningless if minorities are half the total. Minorities are also not distributed evenlyHispanics and Asians will account for 61 percent of U.S. population growth between 1995 and 2025 (44 percent Hispanic and 17 percent Asian), but California alone will add 12 million Hispanics and 6 million Asians, while Texas and Florida will add 8 million more Hispanics. Seventy percent of the U.S. Hispanic population now live in California, Texas, New York, and Florida, a situation that will exist for the foreseeable future. There is good news regarding minority access to the middle class, particularly involving major increases in suburban black residents. While not perfect, suburban residency is a good indicator of middle class status. Similar successes can be found in other minority groups. Although Hispanics are not doing as well as African-Americans in getting into college in the early twenty-first century, they are starting small businesses and buying homes at a rapid rate, while Asians are doing well in both college admission and small business ownership.

There is also some confusion in the area of defining one's ancestry. In a Census 2000 supplement, 20 million Americans said that their ethnic ancestry was "American" or "United States." Increasing intermarriage, and increasing years between the arrival in America of one's ancestors and the present day, will probably increase the number of people who will report their race as "American."

Sources of Change

There are four major factors that change the U.S. population: (1) There are almost 4 million births per year; (2) There are about half as many deaths (2.3 million) as births; (3) There are about one million immigrants coming to the United States each year; and (4) 43 million Americans change their residence each year, the highest figure by far of any nation. Transience is strongly related to crime (it is easier to steal from, hurt, or kill strangers) and presents numerous difficulties for health care and education, as both health care professionals and educators can do a better job if they can get to know their patients and students over an extended period of time. If a child attends two or three schools in a year, they are less likely to make friends, get to know teachers and the school, and be loyal school members. Certainly the forces of cohesion have a difficult time against these forces of instability.

Educational Demographics

Most striking about the U.S. educational system is its complexity, with many different routes to get where one is going. (In France, great pride is taken in the fact that at 10 a.m. on Wednesday every child in the fourth form is studying the predicate nominative.) Americans can return to acquire a high school diploma at age twenty-five, or even at fifty, an impossible task in most centralized nations. This flexibility is necessary because of the country's diverse population. Rather than a ministry of education, U.S. public schools are governed by 15,000 locally elected school committees, as well as a chief state school officer for each state and a state legislative structure. The federal government provides only about 11 percent of all public school expenditures, but represents far more than 11 percent of influence on educational decisions. Federal programs concentrate in areas difficult for state and local governments to fund, such as antipoverty programs like Head Start and Title I, programs for children with disabilities, school transportation and construction funds for schools and colleges, and student scholarship support at the college level.

There are also demographic implications in where the 80,000 U.S. public schools are located19,000 in central cities, 22,000 in suburbia, and 39,000 in small towns and sparsely populated rural areas. Every one of the 3,100 U.S. counties provides schools, whether they have six people per square mile or 1,500. Just as the citizens of Wyoming have more "pull" with their senators (only a half million people) than do California residents (33 million people, but only two senators), it is also true that wealthy districts can spend more per pupil than poor ones, and a dense school district will have more taxpayers per square mile than one with only six people per square mile. In many states, such as Kentucky, low-density, high-poverty rural districts have sued the state on the grounds that there is no way they can provide the same level of investment in every child that wealthy suburban districts can. These economic inequities in household income and tax revenues have resulted in unequal investments in education. There will always be income differences in any society, but American rhetoric suggests that every child should enter kindergarten at the same starting line as all others. The media focus on big-city school systems, where poverty is concentrated, and on large school systems in the suburbs. In these systems, superintendents often last no more than three years, whereas in rural systems a superintendent usually lasts for more than a decade and teachers know who their students will be a year before they actually arrive in their classroom.

There is, in general, little national media interest in rural issues, even though rural and small town populations are a quarter of the U.S. total, and these areas contain the largest number of the nation's schools. In these 80,000 schools there are 47 million students24 million of them in 52,000 elementary schools, 8 million in 134,500 middle schools, and 12.6 million in 15,900 high schools. There are 2.8 million teachers (1.7 million elementary school teachers and 1.1 million middle and secondary school teachers), who are paid approximately $40,600 each. There are 9.7 million computers in schools, but only 60 percent of U.S. classrooms have a computer in them. The evidence on the computer's utility in improving student subject-matter knowledge, as judged by scores on so-called high-stakes tests, is, thus far, mixed. In addition to the nation's 2.8 million teachers, there are 2.6 million salaried nonteachers working in U.S. schools as well, including janitors, cafeteria workers, nurses, guidance counselors, administrators, curriculum specialists, bus drivers, librarians, secretaries, and others.

School Successes

Several major accomplishments of American schools have been mostly ignored by the media. First, there has been a major increase in American adults who possess a bachelor's degreefrom 20 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 1999, probably the largest increase in any nine-year period in the nation's history. There are, however, large differences between states, ranging from West Virginia's 14 percent to Maryland's 41 percent. Second, the rate of high school graduation for African Americans has become virtually the same as that of whites, and in access to higher education the gap between blacks and whites has been narrowing rapidly. The only severe gap left is in college graduation rates, with blacks graduating at about half the rate of whites. In that there is such a direct relationship between educational level and personal income, there should be a concerted effort to increase college graduation rates among African Americans. Hispanics are graduating from high school only about half the time, about where blacks were in 1982. High school graduation rates must be increased for Hispanics before their college-going rates can improve.

Third, a massive effort to provide a computer for every school in the nation has been very successful, especially compared with other developed countries. However, the evidence of the impact of the more than nine million computers in U.S. schools on student learning is far from clear, due largely to a shortage of subject-specific software that could help teachers teach specific subjects more creatively and more efficiently. Countries with virtually no computers in schools still outscore the United States by a large margin on international comparison tests, such as the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS).

Although many observers have projected a massive increase in high school enrollments in the next decade, the data do not support such a notion. (see Figure 1). What matters, however, is the variation in high school graduation rates, ranging from a 61 percent increase in Nevada to Wyoming's 23 percent decline. The states vary enormously in the number of nineteen-year-olds that graduate from high school and are admitted to college, with 55 to 60 percent of students graduating and going to college in North Dakota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Iowa, and South Dakota (all very stable populations), but only 25 to 30 percent doing so in Alaska, Nevada, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, the six most transient states, and those with the six highest crime rates. These differences in state performance of the major task in educationhigh school graduation and college admissionare far greater than any international comparisons of the U.S. educational system with other nations, according to data from the Mortenson Institute. It seems clear that parental level of education and household income are strong predictors of success in these areas.

The Issue of Poverty

The U.S. poverty rate among children is 18 percent, the highest in the developed nations. The media generally presents pictures of poor black children in the United States, although the largest number of poor children are white (8.9 million of the 14 million poor children in 1999 were white, 4.2 million were black, and 3.9 million were Hispanic.) However, only 19 percent of all white children were poor, while 37 percent of black children were poor. It is no longer true that race is a universally handicapping conditionmore than 25 percent of black households have a higher income than the white average. But poverty is a universal handicap. While efforts to eliminate racial segregation have been mostly effective, this has not led to increased economic equality, and the difference between the richest tenth of society and the poorest tenth continues to increase. The goal to "leave no child behind" is unreachable without equal investments in each child's education, starting with preschool.

See also: Multicultural Education; Population and Education; Poverty and Education; Race, Ethnicity, and Culture.


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Bracey, Gerald, and Resnick, Michael. 1998. Raising the Bar: A School Board Primer on Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Association.

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Harold Hodgkinson