Four centuries after white Christians landed in Jamestown and settled what would later become America, a report reveals that white Christians are now a minority in the nation their forebearers settled.
The National Journal’s Next America Project writes, “As the nation relentlessly diversifies, both in its racial composition and religious preferences, White Christians now represent just 46 percent of American adults, according to Pew data provided in response to a request from Next America. That’s down from a 55 percent majority as recently as 2007, and much higher figures through most of U.S. history.”
While the findings of the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape survey—published by the National Journal’s Next America Project on Monday—barely brushed the nation’s consciousness, it represents a perhaps unprecedented development in terms of both the scope and rapidity at which the nation’s social and demographic makeup have been transformed. Reports indicate that this transformation has been brought on largely by changes to visa issuance policies enacted into law in 1965.
In Federalist No. 2, founding father, John Jay observed, “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…”
The nation founded by these settlers went on to establish a legal, political, social, cultural, and economic system that became the envy of the world and produced the highest standard of living the world has ever known.
The latest report from Pew cements prior reports, highlighting how “the notion of America as a mostly white, mostly Christian country is rapidly becoming a fact for the history books,” as the Huffington Post reported in March of this year. This was after a separate study emerged documenting how “White Christians are now a minority in 19 states—including some parts of the bible belt.”
As Pew documented in a separate report, the demographic transformation of the nation is largely the result of the elimination of immigration controls put in place by Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s. In 1965, Ted Kennedy helped usher in new green card policies, which opened up American green cards to the entire world. This demographic change has occurred almost entirely through legal issuances of visas to people from non-Western countries. As Pew noted:
Fifty years after passage of the landmark law that rewrote U.S. immigration policy, nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the United States, pushing the country’s foreign-born share to a near record 14%. For the past half-century, these modern-era immigrants and their descendants have accounted for just over half the nation’s population growth and have reshaped its racial and ethnic composition…
Immigration since 1965 has swelled the nation’s foreign-born population from 9.6 million then to a record 45 million in 2015…
At the time [that the immigration rewrite was enacted], relatively few anticipated the size or demographic impact of the post-1965 immigration flow…
After the replacement of the nation’s European-focused origin quota system, greater numbers of immigrants from other parts of the world began to come to the U.S. Among immigrants who have arrived since 1965, half (51%) are from Latin America and one-quarter are from Asia.
Pew projected that if visa issuances continue at their current pace—as they will unless Congress passes a law to change them, “By 2065, the composition of the nation’s immigrant population will change again… The country’s overall population will feel the impact of these shifts. Non-Hispanic whites are projected to become less than half of the U.S. population by 2055 and 46 percent by 2065. No racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of the U.S. population.”
Political candidates on both sides of the aisle have sought to accelerate this demographic transformation. Sen. Marco Rubio, for instance—whose campaign theme of a “New American Century” echoes the National Journal’s “Next America” project and President Obama’s “New Americans Project”—introduced legislation that would have issued 33 million new green cards—or an immigrant population larger than the size of Texas—in the span of a single decade. Earlier this year, Sen. Rubio introduced another piece of legislation that would lift several immigration caps—substantially increasing immigration on top of Pew’s projected growth.
Reports have documented how record high immigration has had economic implications for the nation’s populace. A report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that, “wages of America’s middle class have dropped below 1970s levels as immigration has surged 325 percent,” as the Washington Examiner reports. The compression of wages has had a disproportionate impact on the economic opportunities for black Americans in particular. As U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow has documented, “Competition from immigration accounts for approximately 40 percent of the 18 percentage point decline in black employment in recent years. That’s nearly a million jobs lost by blacks to immigrants.”
The National Journal’s Next America Project observes that the New America brought about by green card issuances could have electoral significance—specifically for the future of the Republican Party, as the votes of white Christians are canceled out by a more diverse electorate:
Yet even as White Christians shrink in their overall numbers, they still account for nearly seven in 10 Americans who identify with, or lean toward, the Republican Party, the Pew study found. White Christians, in fact, represent as large a share of the Republican coalition today as they did of American society overall in 1984, when Ronald Reagan won reelection. A clear majority of all White Christians across the United States now identify as Republican, Pew found.
Recent reports indicate that the changing demographic landscape could also present a variety of social implications as the nation becomes increasingly diversified. For instance, just a week prior to the Pew survey’s publication, students at the College of William and Mary joined students at Mizzou in calling for the removal of statues of founding father Thomas Jefferson from their respective campuses.
Similarly, earlier this week a high school cheerleader in Massachusetts was banned from cheerleading following a tweet about illegal immigrants, and the school, according to local Fox report, “is now creating a group of teachers and students to come up with a curriculum about diversity and acceptance.”
Last year, reports documented that U.S. public schools are now a majority-minority. In September, Vox noted that as “the pool of test-takers has gotten more diverse and poorer than in the past,” SAT test scores plummeted– underscoring both the challenges and need to close the educational achievement gap. A study earlier this month from the National Academy of Sciences documented that, unlike any other demographic group, there is a significant rise in mortality rates among middle-aged, white Americans without a college degrees.
While it remains unclear what the contours of the New America will look like, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election could likely play a deciding factor.
As the nation’s large-scale migratory flow has contributed to social challenges, including low wages, high unemployment, and systematic poverty—creating a cohesive middle class will be one of the great policy challenges of the decade ahead. The results of that effort may largely be shaped by the presidential race and whether Republican donors are successful in continuing to implement their low-wage, high-immigration policies that have widened wealth gaps and have contributed to an uptick in poverty and class division.