Volume 3, Issue 1 University of Houston
America's future is drawn along ethnic lines, political scientists say
By Ken Fountain
The 2000 Census will show the United States is "on the verge of being the first nation in the history of the world to be made up of every other nation in the world," the director of the U.S. Census Bureau said at UH on Friday.
"Everyone is coming," said Kenneth Prewitt, the census head and keynote speaker at Friday's UH Center for Public Policy conference "Power Shift: Redrawing America's Political Boundaries After the 2000 Elections and Census."
Prewitt pointed out that 18,000 Somalis live in Columbus, Ohio, and that Dearborn, Mich., is a largely Arab-American city. This transformation of the United States from a white-majority population to one of a multiplicity of ethnic groups was one of the main subjects of Friday's conference.
The census, taken every 10 years, determines the apportionment of elected representatives in state and federal government. Next year, all 50 states will begin to redraw all their legislative district lines, and 43 states will adjust their districts for the U.S. House of Representatives based on the Census 2000 data.
In his remarks, Prewitt said the Census Bureau recently became a political target for the first time in its history. Politicians, most of them Republican, have said that the bureau is either "inefficient" or is politically motivated to "cook" its population data.
Kenneth Prewitt, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said Friday the 2000 Census will show the United States is quickly moving to a minority majority population. Prewitt was keynote speaker at a UH conference examining the census and political redistricting.
Pin Lim/"It's difficult to imagine how both things could be true," Prewitt joked.
The conference also included several panel discussions on the demographic changes and political battles in store for the United States.
UH political science professor Keith Poole outlined a study he co-conducted that examined congressional roll call votes over several decades. It demonstrates, he said, that "the degree of polarization in Congress is approaching levels not seen since the 1890s."
The leading factor driving this polarization, Poole said, is the inequity of income and wealth distribution in American society because one of the principal differences between the two major political parties is their differing view on the role of government in the economy.
Many of the panelists said the struggles over redistricting will be in the four "megastates" -- California, New York, Florida and Texas -- which have the largest populations and attract the most immigrants.
William Fry of the University of Michigan said a demographic divide would emerge in the next few years between new immigrants and aging baby boomers.
The divide will also become a regional one, Fry said, as older, conservative white move to the "heartland" regions and younger, ethnically diverse Americans continue settling in large cities on the coasts. Houston is one of those cities: its metropolitan area is expected to be the second most diverse in the nation when this year's census data are released.
Friday's conference, which drew prominent politicians, scholars and journalists from across the country, was sponsored by former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier and the UH Center for Public Policy.
Next year's conference will focus on the American city in the 21st century.
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