How the Generational Gap is Becoming a Racial Gap

The median age of the nation’s white population is rising, while it’s dropping for non-whites, according to census data. That’s left some concerned that blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by cuts to public programs that benefit youth.

D.C.’s demographic make-up is somewhat reverse of national trends; African Americans have the highest median age at 37.7 years. The median age for whites is 33 years and 29.8 years for Hispanics. This younger population is behind D.C.’s record growth.

“Where the old don’t see themselves reflected in the young, there’s less investment in the future,” says Manuel Pastor, a professor of geography and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California where he directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) and co-directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.

“Our racial divide has become a generational divide,” Pastor says. “There’s this image of an older generation drawing up the drawbridge just as the younger generation is coming of age in America.”

More important, data show that states with a larger gap between median ages of whites and people of color tend to make fewer investments in social programs that once benefited older generations that were predominantly white, according to a new research project by PERE in conjunction with PolicyLink, a national research and advocacy organization based in Oakland, Calif.

For instance, Pastor says states with significant age gaps between white and nonwhite populations tend to spend the least on education and public transportation.

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