The US population grew by almost 1 percent each year over the first decade of the millennium, and will continue to grow in the future. But what does this growth actually look like? And how will it affect our future?
The story is different across local areas. Between 2000 and 2010, for example, the Las Vegas area grew 3.47 percent a year and was the second fastest-growing area of the country. Sin City’s population will continue to grow, but what subsets of the population will drive future growth? Urban Institute’s Mapping America’s Futures tool shows two plausible but completely different stories of what the Las Vegas area population might look like in 2030.
Scenario #1: High minority youth, high white elders
When we imagine a future where people move around less and live longer lives, in Las Vegas, youth (younger than age 20) gain proportionately more minorities and elders (older than age 64) gain proportionately more whites. The youth population will experience a decline of almost 15,000 white children and teens and an increase of about 235,000 minorities. The elder population will experience an increase of almost 215,000 older white adults and 200,000 minorities.
What would it mean to have a group of young people and a group of elders with different racial compositions? The needs of young minorities and elder whites are different. If funding for services used by youth, like education, is not supported politically by older white voters, youth could suffer.
Since younger minorities and older whites might not share similar backgrounds or social needs, citizens might disengage from the social and political life of the broader community. An aging population with mostly white elders and a growing and increasingly diverse youth population often leads to competition for resources. When the elder population is mostly white, minority youth sometimes lose.
Scenario #2: High minority youth, low white elders
When we imagine population growth rates where people move around more and live shorter lives, both the youth and the elder populations will gain proportionately more minorities. The white youth population again declines by about 15,000 and the minority youth population increases by about 300,000. The elder population will increase by about 135,000 whites and over 205,000 minorities.
Here, we no longer see a generational divide; both youth and elders have large and growing minority populations. The needs of elder minorities are different than the needs of elder whites, however, so there still may be competition between groups for scarce resources. Meeting the resource and service demands for a minority elder population, many of whom have fewer savings to retire on, will bring different challenges.
The future is still open for the population of the United States, and Las Vegas provides an interesting example to explore different growth scenarios and consider the potential policy implications. If Las Vegas’s future population has more elder whites, then implementing innovative strategies to fund education for the increasing number of youths would prove beneficial. And if the area has more elder minorities, then preparing for budget increases to provide more services to the future population may be useful.
For communities like Las Vegas, it is important to visualize what their needs will be in the future so that they can implement policies and programs that will best serve their current and future populations.