From the moment the United States was born, it has been an exercise in transformation, a nation that every day welcomes new citizens — by birth and by oath — to take part in this grand experiment.
Conceived by a band of wealthy, white men who demanded freedom from Great Britain, America has developed into a multicultural, multiethnic community. And even as racist rallies, travel bans and bigoted slurs remain part of our cultural landscape, our transformation rolls on.
Here are some of the ways our nation has become — and will continue to grow — more diverse:
The first US Census, in 1790, counted 3.9 million people living in the brand-new United States: nearly 3.2 million white people and about 760,000 black people, of whom about 92% were slaves; no other races or ethnicities were tallied.
By 1960, at the advent of the civil rights movement, the country had ballooned to 178 million people — about 89% of them white, 11% black, and a tiny fraction comprised of other races, including Native American and Asian and Pacific Islander. Hispanic ethnicity wasn’t counted yet.
In the 1960s, landmark civil rights and immigration legislation began shifting the picture of who we are — and what we can achieve. Before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, only 3.5% of African-Americans older than 25 held a bachelor’s degree; by 2015, that number had risen to 22.5%. Among Asians, the rate rose from 11% to 54% over the same period. And among Hispanic people, the rate rose from 8% in 1980 to 16% in 2015.
Meantime, black business people owned 2.6 million firms across the US in 2012, a 35% increase from five years earlier; there were 1.9 million Asian-owned firms nationally in 2012, marking a 24% bump from 2007; and 3.3 million US firms were owned by Hispanics in 2012, up 46% in the prior five years. Over that same period, the overall number of US firms only grew 2%.
Even so, white men still account for 72% of corporate leadership at the handful of Fortune 500 companies that share employee data.
Also in 1960, only 9.7 million immigrants lived in the US, accounting for just 5.4% of the total population. But in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed a law that serves as the foundation of our modern immigration policy. Johnson at the time said the law “does not affect the lives of millions … (and) will not restructure the shape of our daily lives.” And yet, in many ways, it has. By 2015, the number of immigrants in the US shot up to a record 43.2 million, comprising 13.4% of the population.
During the first US Census in 1790, Americans were sorted into just three categories when it came to race: free white males and females, all other free persons, and slaves. Until 1960, Americans weren’t even allowed to choose their own race — a Census worker did it for them. But starting that year, Americans were allowed to identify their own race, and since 2000, we’ve gotten to identify with more than one.
In the 2010 Census, there were more than 60 race options, plus ethnicity. About 3% of all Americans — some 9 million of about 309 million people — chose more than one racial category to describe themselves.
In 1967, just 3% of couples had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. That same year, the US Supreme Court ruled that marriage across racial lines was legal, and a half-century later, 10% of married couples — 11 million people — fit the description. And 18% of all unmarried couples who were living together had a partner of a different race or ethnicity.
With multiracial couples, of course, come multiracial families. In 1970, three years after the Supreme Court ruling, just 1% of babies born in the US were multiracial. By 2013, that number had risen to 10%, and demographers expect this rapid growth to continue, if not quicken, in the decades to come.
More than 4% of American adults — 10 million people — identified last year as LGBT, a rate that slowly has risen as governments, businesses and faith groups have heightened protections and opened their arms to a long-persecuted community. In 2003, Massachusetts became the first US state to legalize same-sex marriage. Twelve years later, the US Supreme Court made it the law from sea to shining sea.
Almost 20% of voting members of the current House and Senate are a racial or ethnic minority. That makes this Congress the most diverse in history. And minorities account for 34% of the new members in both houses. And, of course, US voters in 2008 elected the nation’s first black President, Barack Obama.
By 2065, non-Hispanic whites will only make up 46% of the population — and no one racial or ethnic group will comprise a majority, experts project. Hispanics will be 24% of the population; Asians will be 14%; blacks will be 13%. Asians will also supplant Hispanics for the largest share of the foreign-born population, experts expect.