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Demographic trends in the United States foreshadow major economic and social changes. Four major implications emerge: (1) The United States has experienced declining birth rates and a maturing age distribution. As the number of older adults increases and the needs of those adults find political expression, national budgetary priorities will likely focus on such needs, straining education budgets. Furthermore, the number of workers in the prime working years will begin to diminish. (2) An obvious gap has emerged as access to computers has made computer literacy during childhood increasingly prevalent among people born since the mid-1980s. Among earlier cohorts, computer literacy remains less prevalent. This digital divide could create a society of information haves and have-nots. (3) Existing economic disparities tied to education levels could widen dramatically. Specifically, the economic prospects for those finishing high school and obtaining a bachelor’s degree may begin to diverge sharply from those who do not earn a degree. These disparities may reduce individual opportunity and shortchange the nation’s scientific enterprise. (4) A complex ethnic mosaic is materializing across the country. Census Bureau projections show a population in which Hispanics will soon outnumber African Americans; and non-Hispanic white (Anglo) persons will become the minority by 2060, comprising less than half of all Americans. In terms of social change, intermarriage is rising, and more Americans identify themselves as multiracial. The challenge regarding this evolving variable (ethnicity) is to balance the interests that unify a local community with those that distinguish or divide its members.

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This study is a product of the Population Matters project within RAND’s Labor and Population unit.

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