09/14/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Care About Projected U.S. Ethnicity and Age?

Someone remind me: Why should I care what the ethnic makeup of the United States might be in 2050? Or the median age?

The U.S. Census Bureau finds it newsworthy that its just-released projection of U.S. population shows that Americans will be "more racially diverse and much older by mid-century." You have to read five paragraphs into the Bureau's press release to find out that in 42 years there will be 439 million of us, up more than 45 percent from today's 302 million.

Most news media took their cue from Census and similarly led their stories about this with the projected change in ethnic and age mix, backloading the projected population as a second and lesser angle to the story.

OK, more TV channels in languages other than English, and maybe at last some ethnic diversity in Congress. More worries about the future of Social Security. But can these compare in importance to half again more Americans than are alive today -- driving cars, needing houses, and generally pushing up demand for food and fuel -- in little more than four decades?

Imagine you could choose one of three ballot initiatives to vote on this November. In one initiative you vote on whether you'd prefer today's ethnic balance (two thirds European-American, one third "other") in 2050 or one in which there is no ethnic majority in the country. In the other you vote on whether you like today's proportion of working-age people (63 percent) or would rather have the 57 percent projected for 2050. Finally, you can vote on whether you prefer today's population or the much-larger one projected for 2050.

I'm betting most people would want to vote on our population size, which is going to have a far bigger impact on all of us and the way we live, rather than vote on what proportion of us have colored skin or gray hair.

It's pretty curious, given the country's aspiration to be unbiased by race or ethnicity, that the topic of our ethnic mix fascinates the Census Bureau and the news media so much. Maybe it's the sports-team effect that dominates so much of our political discourse: Hispanics are up! Whites are down! Blacks are holding their own!

Maybe it's just me, but I don't care what race, ethnicity or age Americans are. We're a diverse country, likely to become more so. Anyone have a problem with that? If the average age of the country rises, my reaction is the same as when my own age rises: Live with it, and be grateful. But 147 million more Americans in 42 years? Now that's something worth talking about.