Whites fading fast, but blacks could fade too

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 3/11/2009, 7:44 a.m.

Whites fading fast, but blacks could fade too

There were two eye-catching items buried in the recent Census Bureau projection that America will no longer be a white man’s country in 2042:

One is that blacks also will fade in numbers — or, at least, their numbers won’t get much bigger. The other is that the number of Hispanics will soar; they will make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population in that year.

That means that not only will America not be a white majority country, it will almost certainly be a bilingual nation. In many cities, Spanish will as likely be heard on the streets, in schools and in workplaces as English. The seismic demographic revolution is already happening in many urban neighborhoods. There has been huge growth in Latino-owned businesses, media ownership and employment dominance in the retail and manufacturing industries. In the years to come, the economic shakeup will be colossal in entire areas of the country.

But the biggest shakeup will be in the political arena — the one place that can cause the greatest potential for angst for blacks.

In 2000, the 23 million blacks eligible to vote dwarfed the 13 million eligible Latino voters, even though Latinos had by then reached virtual parity with blacks in the population. More than one-third of the Latino population was less than 18 years old, and 40 percent of Latinos who were of eligible voting age were non-citizens, compared with only 5 percent of blacks.

Those numbers have radically changed. Since the 2000 election, the number of Latinos of voting age and who are citizens has jumped, and beyond mere eligibility, there are now an estimated 15 million Latino registered voters. That number compares far more favorably with the 15 million black voters in the 2004 election.

The surge in registered voters is not the only shift that has changed ethnic politics in America. In past elections, the majority of the Latino vote was concentrated in California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. In the 2008 national elections, helped by the sharp increase in the number of legal and illegal immigrants in the Midwest and Northeast states, the Latino vote will have national impact.

In the coming weeks, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain will likely dump millions into Spanish language ads, pitches and pleas for votes on Spanish language stations. When — not if — Democrats and Republicans cut an immigration reform deal, one of its features almost certainly will include some form of legalization plan that will turn thousands more Latino immigrants into ballot-casting American citizens within a few years. When that happens, Democrats and Republicans will likely pour even more time, money, and personnel into courting Latino voters.

The bottom line: The potential political gain from a massive outreach effort to Latinos is far greater than putting the same resources into courting black voters.

It’s sound political reasoning. That effort worked for Republicans in 2004, when President George W. Bush secured nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote. The Democrats, meanwhile, maintain a solid lock on the black vote. In every election since 1964, blacks have given more than 80 percent of their votes to the Democrats. They will give even more of their vote to Obama this election. With the tantalizing prospect of a small, but nonetheless important, segment of newly enfranchised Latino voters voting Republican, there’s no political incentive for Republicans to try to do more to get the black vote.