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Charlotte’s many hues and what they portend

By Taylor Batten
Editorial Page Editor

We all know Charlotte is changing quickly, but a friend pointed me to a new statistic this week that grabbed me by the lapels:

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that Mecklenburg County was one of six counties in the nation (of more than 3,100) to become a majority-minority population in 2012. What we used to call minorities are now the majority. Non-Hispanic whites are now the minority.

You can embrace it or you can be terrified by it, but you can’t deny it. Thanks to immigration and birth rates, our already-diverse community will become an increasingly multi-colored quilt. It’s time we started thinking about what that means for business, education, politics, neighborhoods and other facets of life.

Trend won’t change soon

Mecklenburg’s population on July 1, 2012, was 969,031, the Census estimated. Non-Hispanic whites were 49.8 percent of the total. African-Americans made up 30.6 percent; Hispanics were 12.5 percent; Asians were 5 percent; and other non-whites made up the rest.

What’s more, whites are the slowest-growing population in Mecklenburg County. From April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012, the county grew by almost 50,000 people. Whites accounted for just 15,000 of that. The white population grew 3.3 percent. The black population grew 6 percent; Hispanics, 8.5 percent; Asians 12.8 percent; and those who claimed two or more races, 11.9 percent.

This is not a trend that is about to reverse itself. Hispanic growth in particular is now being driven less by immigration and mostly by “natural increase,” meaning births minus deaths. That accounts for about three-quarters of the Hispanic population growth nationally. And half the children younger than 5 in the United States are from “minority” groups.

The country will follow Mecklenburg and the other 11 percent of counties that are majority-minority. The United States, currently 37 percent minority, is expected to be majority-minority by 2050.

No part of community untouched

This is all a bit unsettling for many. They worry about their traditions and they worry that these changes will raise crime, hurt schools and increase dependence on government programs. And they worry about claiming a minority status they’ve never had before.

As a community, though, we have no choice but to recognize the new reality and understand its ramifications.

In politics, it will require both parties to understand that they face a changing electorate that requires more sophisticated campaigning and governing. Republicans in particular will have to convince these emerging groups – 80 percent of whom voted for President Obama in 2012 – that they represent their interests.

In business, it will require entrepreneurs and big business alike to recognize new potential markets. Companies will need to be able to recruit and develop a more diverse pool of human resources to help them grow.

It will require Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to figure out new ways to educate a population that increasingly speaks scores of different languages at home. CMS might have to do more to meet the needs of upper- and middle-class parents and students of color so they will stay with the system and serve as role models for their peers.

And it will touch everyone else, from houses of worship to nonprofits to neighborhoods. The YMCA, I’m told, is considering whether it will eventually need to convert some of its fields to accommodate cricket.

Change is here. We can resent it, or we can embrace it and capitalize on it.

Reach me at tbatten@charlotteobsever.com; Twitter: @tbatten1.

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