In November 1940, after Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term, an embattled Winston Churchill, still holding out alone against Hitler's Germany, cabled the White House. A phrase from that distant communication applies to the events now unfolding to mark the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States: "Things are afoot which will be remembered as long as the English language is spoken in any corner of the globe." And Spanish, and Chinese, and, really, any tongue at all.
For this week's issue, we decided to look not at Obama—there has been, and will be, world enough and time for that—but at the nation we have become. We are heading toward a day when the people who are considered minorities will, taken together, account for a majority of the U.S. population. This is not an unfamiliar projection (2042 is the demographers' best guess), but too often conversation about demographics focuses on the future rather than the present, and the present is being shaped by a younger, more diverse and politically engaged generation.
As Pat Wingert, a key reporter for the issue, says, "Even though I've been writing about demographics for many years now, I'm still taken aback periodically by new statistics and trends. It was fascinating looking at voting patterns and polls and realizing that young people, who had trended so conservatively in recent years, now considered themselves as liberal as their baby-boomer parents in the mid-'70s. On one level, I knew that youth was much more diverse than ever, but I was still startled when an expert in Hispanic demography noted that 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 every month, and two thirds of Hispanics are younger than 45. It was also interesting looking at demographic maps and realizing how much more diverse the whole country has become. Demographer Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution has maps that show that Hispanics and immigrants are now living in almost every county in the country. Population shifts have occurred so rapidly in recent years that there are now few all-white pockets left. (For example, in 1990, about 538 counties had Hispanics, and by 2004, 907 counties did, Frey says.) Joel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography .com, made the point that when he speaks in Canada or Australia, he often talks to all-white audiences, but that never happens in the U.S. anymore, no matter where he goes. Some communities have changed dramatically in a generation. One analyst noted that the North Carolina mill town where John Edwards grew up is now half Hispanic."
From a photo essay chronicling the faces of the Bronx in New York (the country's most diverse county, where there is a 90 percent chance that any two people chosen at random will be of different races or ethnicities) to a series of graphics researched by Marc Bain and designed by Kevin Hand, this issue explores the political, cultural and economic state of the Union. Nisid Hajari edited the issue with help from Jeffrey Bartholet, Bret Begun and Debra Rosenberg.
In guest essays, Evan Smith, the editor of Texas Monthly, debunked the "everything's changing" feeling that George W. Bush's state might actually go blue in four years. Urban historian Kotkin writes on why class will be the new race. New York University professor Dalton Conley draws from his new book about the breakdown of the work/life divide. Former Clinton official Henry Cisneros talks about the key role Latinos will play in the nation's future, while Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley explain why the suburbs are equally critical. And David Frum proposes a strategy for the GOP to lure educated voters back into the fold.
We will publish a commemorative issue at midweek devoted to Obama's inaugural and the theme of American freedom (guest essayists include John Lewis, James McPherson, Vernon Jordan, Michael Beschloss, Annette Gordon-Reed, Walter Isaacson and Alice Walker). That issue, like this one, marks the opening of a new era. True, the old problems will still be with us, and there will be problems long after the excitement fades, but, as President Kennedy said the year Barack Obama was born, "Let us begin."