Demography of Immigrant Youth: Past, Present, and Future


Jeffrey Passel surveys demographic trends and projections in the U.S. youth population, with an emphasis on trends among immigrant youth. He traces shifts in the youth population over the past hundred years, examines population projections through 2050, and offers some observations about the likely impact of the immigrant youth population on American society.

Passel provides data on the legal status of immigrant youth and their families and on their geographic distribution and concentration across the United States. He emphasizes two demographic shifts. First, immigrant youth—defined as those children under age eighteen who are either foreign-born or U.S.-born to immigrant parents—now account for one-fourth of the nation's 75 million children. By 2050 they are projected to make up one-third of more than 100 million U.S. children. Second, the wave of immigration under way since the mid-1960s has made children the most racially and ethnically diverse age group in the United States. In 1960 Hispanic, Asian, and mixed-race youth made up about 6 percent of all U.S. children; today that share is almost 30 percent. During that same period the share of non-Hispanic white children steadily dropped from about 81 percent to 56 percent, while the share of black children climbed very slightly to 14 percent. By 2050 the share of non-Hispanic white children is projected to drop to 40 percent, while that of Hispanic children will increase to about one-third.

This changing demographic structure in U.S. youth is likely to present policy makers with several challenges in coming decades, including higher rates of poverty among youth, particularly among foreign-born children and children of undocumented parents; high concentrations of immigrants in a handful of states; and a lack of political voice. A related challenge may be intergenerational competition between youth and the elderly for governmental support such as education funding, Social Security, and government health benefits. In conclusion, Passel notes that today's immigrants and their children will shape many aspects of American society and will provide virtually all the growth in the U.S. labor force over the next forty years. Their integration into American society and their accumulation of human capital thus require continued attention from researchers and policy makers.