Republicans face a Stark future.
Last week, news broke of a demographic turning point for the United States: For the first time in perhaps a century, deaths among non-Hispanic whites
. The fact that the nation hit this benchmark is not astonishing: It was expected that at some point in the next 10 years, the baby boomers whose generational progress has shaped our nation's concerns and culture would pass away in numbers too great for the existing birthrate to replace them. What was future, however, is now present. That seminal moment in America's demographic history is now here, roughly 10 years ahead of schedule. And while the sociocultural consequences of America's continuing color shift are certainly up for debate, the political consequences are far less so.
Any analysis of this country's political predilections reveals that the metaphorical eggs of Republicans rest entirely in one basket: the votes of older white people. According to the exit polls conducted by the New York Times of the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney won 59 percent of white voters, and 56 percent of voters over age 65. The intersection of those two areas is the demographic base of the Republican Party, and it is dying. Markos Moulitsas posited this week that conservatives' endeavors to weaken the social safety net have made it harder for these seniors who comprise the Republican base to stay alive. Even without that, however, the simple demographics of the aging boomer generation would have ensured that this tipping point would occur sooner rather than later. Republican economic policies are still responsible for this milestone's overhasty arrival, but the real consequences are being felt at the generational front end instead:
Even before the 2008 crash, childlessness among American women ages 40 to 44 of all races and ethnicities had steadily increased for a decade, with the proportion of childless women doubling from 10 percent in 1980 to 20 percent today. But the negative trend has accelerated since the Great Recession began. In 2007 the fertility rate in America was 2.12 and had been holding nearly steady for decades at about replacement rate—the highest level of any advanced country. In just half a decade since, the rate has dropped to 1.9, the lowest since 1920 (when reliable records began being kept) and just half of the peak rate in 1957, in the midst of the baby boom, according to the Pew Research Center. Now projections of future U.S. population growth are diving, with the census estimate for 2050 down almost 10 percent from the mark predicted in 2008.
The white population, however, is going to experience a decline larger than that of other groups. Over the past three decades
birthrates among whites have been lower than those of African-Americans, as well as those of Hispanic origin. So while the economic collapse has affected birthrates across all categories, whites have been particularly hard-hit in terms of being able to maintain replacement rate, especially considering the fact that the baby boom generation is predominantly white.
The resultant shift in the white electorate from conservative-leaning baby boom seniors to the comparatively smaller new generation currently coming of voting age would pose enough of a problem for Republicans strategists, even if it were happening at replacement rate: 18-29 year old voters preferred Obama by 26 points more than their counterparts above age 65 in the 2012 elections. Not all young voters, however, are created equal: While young minority voters preferred voted to re-elect President Obama in overwhelming numbers, young white voters narrowly favored Mitt Romney (call it the Tanner Flake and Joey Heck demographic). Unless there is a radical realignment in racial politics, white people will continue to make up the core, albeit an ever-shrinking one, of the Republican Party.
The one-percenters who control the economic agenda of the Republican Party have not yet figured out that young white people are just like anyone else. The millennial generation is struggling find a foothold in an economy that has been stripped of its security and saddled with debt, and is consequently postponing marriage, real estate purchases, and child-rearing—or forgoing them entirely. Some elements of the religious right are acutely aware of this problem: The so-called Ruth Institute, a branch of the anti-gay National Organization of Marriage focusing on evangelizing to college students, is petrified of the idea, while conservative ideologue Pat Buchanan has closely associated declining birthrates with the end of Western civilization. The religious right may attempt to socially engineer the millennial generation to produce more children through rolling back feminist gains and rolling back female sexual agency, but getting a cat back into a bag is no easy trick.
Conservative economic policies are fueling this so-called demographic winter. And if Republicans want to have any voters left who will support them, they will have to make sure that the economy works for the the generation that is currently producing children, instead of vacuuming up more wealth into the hands of those who already possess it.
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