More than 840,000 green card holders became citizens last year, the most in a decade. Over 10 percent of the American electorate was born elsewhere, the highest share in a half-century. All of Donald Trump’s huffing and puffing could not stop this demographic evolution; nor could an endless stream of stories about what an unequal, unfair, and no good place America has supposedly become.
The ground-level integration of America—what my friend Sergio Munoz calls “the multiculturalism of the streets”—continues with ever greater mingling, epitomized by the rise and acceptance of interracial dating, up 40 percent since 2003, and marriage.
What Trump and his most dedicated opponents have both had trouble appreciating is that, rather than a chaotic future defined by racial conflict, most Americans want both order and justice. Most Americans initially supported the George Floyd protests but soon overwhelmingly rejected the violence and looting that accompanied them. Racial minorities, like other Americans, are increasingly heterodox in their political views.
This was evident in Trump—an unpleasant and unprincipled man frequently labeled as a “racist” in the mainstream media, a term also applied to his voters— improving in 2020 on his 2016 results with most minorities, including a significant gain in the Latino vote, particularly in Florida and Texas, and among Black men. In California, Asian voters also didn’t flock to Trump, but they helped reject an affirmative action measure bankrolled by the tech oligarchs. In heavily Asian Orange County, Biden won comfortably but the affirmative action measure lost 2-to-1, and two Korean American women replaced Democratic congresspeople. The measure was also crushed in heavily Latino interior counties,.
Another issue where elite support and popular opinion diverge is defunding the police, a position that the vast majority of Americans—including millennials and minorities—do not favor. As my colleague Charles Blain points out, when the Houston city council was swamped with testimony from residents pushing for the dismantling of the city’s Police Department, Black council members and Mayor Sylvester Turner pushed back, saying that these people clearly didn’t spend time in the communities that they claimed to support. A similar dynamic played out in New York, where Black City Council members held the line against a push to slash the NYPD budget by $1 billion.
Economics account for some of Trump’s gains among minority voters. Before the pandemic, most minority workers had done better in terms of income under his administration than they had under previous administrations from both parties. Like working-class people in general, most African Americans did worse economically under Barack Obama despite the enormous boost in political power and influence for portions of the African American upper class on his watch.
Latinos, suggests former California state Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero. have been devastated by the state’s more extreme lockdowns, and angered to see their putative advocates, like Gavin Newsom or Nancy Pelosi, flaunt their privilege in luxury and even violate their own rules as “ordinary people have literally been arrested and even thrown in jail for opening their businesses to just survive and feed their families.”
At the same time, the “woke” views adopted increasingly by corporate America and the mainstream media often do not play well with many immigrants, who, according to one recent survey, are twice as conservative in their social views as the general public. That dynamic may also explain Trump’s gains among culturally conservative Muslim voters and orthodox Jewish voters.
The growing heterodoxy among minorities can also be seen in their growing geographic dispersion. The notion of minorities clustered in true blue urban enclaves is increasingly antiquated. According to statistics compiled by demographer Wendell Cox in a newly released report, minority populations are growing most rapidly in the South, the Intermountain West and parts of the Great Plains.
For example, the fastest growth among Black households since 2000 has been in Phoenix; Salt Lake City; Boise, Idaho; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Las Vegas. Meanwhile the Black population has stagnated in Chicago, New York, and San Jose, and actually declined in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metros. Where 1 in 7 San Franciscans was Black in 1970, today it’s barely 1 in 20.
Similarly Hispanic growth has been most notable in the South, with growth of over 200 percent in Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina, while slowing to roughly one-tenth that pace over the past two decades in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and San Jose. Similar patterns can be seen among Asians, where cities such as Indianapolis, Fayetteville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Las Vegas have seen increases over the past two decades of 200 percent or more—four times the rate of Los Angeles, which has the nation’s largest Asian community.
According to Cox, the demographer, foreign-born populations follow a similar pattern: stagnating and even declining in places like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago while expanding rapidly in places like Atlanta, Orlando, Charlotte, Kansas City, Nashville, and Louisville. In these areas immigrants generally live with other groups; there are ethnic malls, but not large one-race enclaves.
The suburbs, not the city, now dominates the non-white experience in America. The model of 1950s and 1960s “white flight” no longer holds. In the 50 largest US metropolitan areas, 44 percent of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs, ranging from 20 percent to 60 percent non-white. In Atlanta, for example, more than 70 percent of Blacks and Hispanics live in the outer suburbs. Nationwide, in the 53 metropolitan areas with more than a million residents, more than three-quarters of Blacks and Hispanics now live in suburban or exurban areas.
Most minorities still seek out “the American dream”, notes a recent AEI study, but many lack the conviction they can achieve it.
One way to achieve the dream is to move—property remains key to financial security. Homes today account for roughly two-thirds of the wealth of middle-income Americans. Home owners have a median net worth more than 40 times that of renters, according to the Census Bureau. Yet in some parts of the country, notably California and the Northeast, housing prices are often out of reach for most minorities.
In many southern metropolitan areas, like Atlanta, Black home-ownership exceeds 50 percent compared to one-third in Los Angeles, Boston, or New York. Among large metros, Atlanta and Oklahoma City rank highest in best housing affordability for African Americans; for Hispanics, Pittsburgh, Akron and St. Louis stand out while the least affordable housing markets include the four large California metros, Honolulu, and Boston. Asians also follow this pattern, with better affordability in the South and Midwest, while ownership is much lower in traditional Asian hubs as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu.
Minorities are leaving our biggest, densest cities not because they do not love the cultural amenities of New York or California, but for basic economic opportunity created, in part, by underserved markets, lower taxes, lower costs, fewer regulations on new businesses.
This follows an old American tradition. Economically driven migration in the late 19th century and early 20th century saw Scottish, Scandinavian, and German migrants head to the Great Plains, Armenians to California’s Central Valley, and Mexicans early in the last century to the Southeast and the cities of the North.
Today immigrants are transforming and re-energizing the Heartland and the South in surprising ways. Nashville may be the country music capital but it is also home to a Little Kurdistan, a Somali community and a growing Latino presence. When I went with my younger daughter to Fargo last summer, we stumbled, in our surprise, on a Thai ice cream parlor. In places like Grand Island, Nebraska, you can run into streets filled with Honduran eateries, servicing the largely Latino workforce that works in the meat packing plants.
Republicans may fret about the political effect of these diverse populations, who may lean Democratic but the newcomers also are making these places both more economically vibrant and attractive to skilled workers, as demonstrated in a recent report from Heartland Forward. It is also likely that minorities living in more conservative places, starting businesses and buying homes, may be less predictably lockstep in their politics; in Texas, where Latinos generally do better and are more able to buy homes than in California or New York, they also tend to split their votes more evenly between the parties.
It is in these new places of opportunity—suburbs, small cities, Sunbelt boom towns—that America’s racial quandary can be settled, quietly and with less rancor. “The multiculturalism of the streets” where newcomers meet, eat, work, and even marry with the majority population, is where the burden of our historical racial legacy is being overcome, if only people would bother to see it.