When Manuel Velasco immigrated to Utah from Mexico 13 years ago, his children at first found few Hispanic classmates. He says it was rare to find a restaurant that understood Spanish for his weekly dates with his wife as he learned English.
"Now Latinos may even have overcome (white) Americans" in numbers at his children's schools in West Valley City, he says. "Most businesses now speak Spanish, and many offer products specifically for Latinos." And growth has come so fast that Velasco, branch president of a Spanish-speaking LDS Church congregation, says it has split eight times for growth in 13 years.
That appears to be a prelude to even bigger change. Hispanics, blacks, Asians, Pacific Islanders and other minorities won't be in the minority for long. In 34 years, new census projections estimate they as a group will be in the new majority in America outnumbering whites. In just 15 years, they will become the majority among children.
"Baby boomers' kids and grandkids are going to have a completely different experience than they did. They (baby boomers) grew up during the whitest, most homogenous period racially and ethnically in our country in the last century," said University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich.
"It will not be the same experience growing up in Utah now as it was 50, 40 or even 30 years ago. It never will be again. The genie is out of the bottle, because we are connecting more globally," and more diverse groups are coming to America and Utah and often are having more children than whites, she said. "I call it the new Utah."
Census Bureau projections released today say that minorities which now make up a third of the U.S. population are expected to become the majority in 2042. Among working adults, they are expected to become the majority by 2039.
Among children, they will become the majority by 2023 and that is expected to grow to 62 percent by 2050.
The populations of Hispanics and Asians are both expected to nearly triple by 2050. Pacific Islanders are expected to double. And the population of blacks is expected to increase about 15 percent.
Meanwhile, the population of non-Hispanic whites nationally is projected to increase only slightly, from about 199.8 million now to 203.3 million in 2050 as fertility rates among whites have dropped essentially to replacement rates.
The new projections do not include state-by-state data. But estimates released last week by the census show how fast recent growth among some minorities already has been in Utah.
For example in 2000 in Utah, Hispanics made up only 9.1 percent of the overall population. By 2007, that had grown to 11.6 percent. In those seven years, the number of Utah Hispanics grew 52.2 percent from about 204,800 to 311,700, according to Deseret News analysis of census estimates.
Still, Juliette Tennert, the Utah state demographer, said while not much research has been done with state-level projections, she says minorities may become the majority a bit more slowly in Utah than nationwide because they are starting from a smaller base here. But, she adds, minorities are indeed growing in Utah and will continue to represent a significant proportion of our population.
Perlich said a root of such growth among minorities in America likely is found in immigration law changes in the 1960s that came as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement. For decades before that, immigration quotas limited who came to America "and it was usually whites from Europe," she said.
Then "we recognized our immigration laws were kind of racist," she said, and they were changed to consider such things as family reunification, work opportunities and needs, and refugee status to allow more immigration beyond old quotas.
She said strong labor markets drew immigrants from every continent. Many also came to Utah and America for universities, for protection as refugees or "because of nice experiences with young missionaries." She notes that many of the new immigrants have higher fertility rates than whites and usually immigrate during child-bearing years.
Velasco said he immigrated because of better chances for work, a better future for his family and a better lifestyle. He also had a sister here, and he liked Utah more than other places such as California that he had visited.
He has been living the American dream since and even recently sold a smaller duplex home to buy a larger single family home.
"It's a great place to live here. Utah is one of the best states for raising children, and I think that's why it has been growing a lot," he said. He said Hispanics from Central America, South America and the Caribbean all members of his church congregation often say the same.
That has led, for example, to big growth in the Spanish-speaking LDS Church congregations that he has attended here.
"When I first came here 13 years ago, there was one big (Spanish-speaking) ward that covered the area from Redwood Road to Magna, and from 21st South to West Jordan," he said. Congregations where he has lived have since been divided eight times for growth.
Velasco is now president of a church branch covering a much smaller area, between about 4400 West and 4800 West, and from 3500 South to about 4500 South.
Perlich adds that the census projections for growth of minorities tell only part of the diversity tale. She said many people who are counted as "white" actually represent new, diverse cultures, too from Bosnians to Greeks, Serbs and Middle Easterners. "The vast mix of cultures that is occurring is unprecedented and will be interesting," she said.
The new census projections also show that not only will America become much more diverse by 2050, it will be much older, too.
By 2030, when all the baby boomers will be 65 or older, about one of every five U.S. residents is expected to be a senior citizen. The number of senior citizens is expected to more than double from 2008 to 2050.Perlich notes that projections from state data show that Utahns over age 60 will actually outnumber schoolchildren by 2040. In Salt Lake County that is expected to happen 10 years earlier, in 2030.