Race And Ethnicity

Since the 1960s, the traditional notion of America as a "melting pot" in which all nationalities and races would become intermingled has given way to the idea of multiculturalism. To a large extent, immigrants from European countries have become assimilated into the dominant Anglo-American culture that they found here, but those from Africa and Asia have remained more "ghettoized." Second- and subsequent-generation descendants of European immigrants were acculturated into mainstream America by adopting the behaviors and ways of thinking that were characteristic of the host group and by intermarrying with them. The culture and customs of the newer arrivals were also assimilated with those of the dominant group.

Although racially mixed children have also increased in number and efforts have been made to legislate equality among different racial and ethnic groups in this country, counterforces on both the left and the right have promoted separatism. Despite Thomas Jefferson's stated belief that "all men are created equal," after two centuries of discussion, conflict, and legislation, racial equality remains an aspiration rather than a fact. The quality of life in America, as indicated by economic, health, security, and other indicators, is not the same for people of all races. The problem of attaining equality has proven to be particularly difficult for Americans who possess visible and identifiable characteristics, such as different skin coloration. Those individuals are more likely to have met with prejudice and discrimination in all walks of life—in education, employment, housing, medical care, religion, and other social institutions. One consequence of discrimination in employment is the significant race-related difference in average annual income. Note in Figure 8-2 that median annual income, both household and per capita, is significantly higher for whites than for blacks and Hispanics.

Whereas race is a biological term designating a subdivision of the human species, an ethnic group consists of people who share the same language and culture. The major racial groups in this country are Caucasian (white), African-American (black), Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American. His-panics, who may be of any race but usually identify themselves as white, are an ethnic group. The estimated number of Americans, by age group, in

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Median Annual Income (Thousands$)

Figure 8-2 Median annual household and per capita income by race/ethnicity.

(Constructed from data in US. Bureau of the Census, 1996.)

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Median Annual Income (Thousands$)

Figure 8-2 Median annual household and per capita income by race/ethnicity.

(Constructed from data in US. Bureau of the Census, 1996.)

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Hispanic Origin Asian/Pacific Islander I American Indian

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Age Interval (Years)

Figure 8-3 Estimated U.S. population by chronological age and ethnicity, January 1997. (Based on unpublished data from U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997.)

each of four ethnic groups in 1997 is plotted in Figure 8-3. Not depicted in the figure is the projected increase in the percentage of minorities in the older American population during the next century. By 2050, it is anticipated that 32% of Americans over age 65 will be minorities, blacks, and Hispanics in particular, as compared with approximately 14% in 1990 (U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1991). Therefore, the problems of education, health, living conditions, and unemployment that are seen in today's minority elderly can be expected to multiply during the next century if no further progress is made toward solutions.

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