If current trends continue, the majority of Kansans will be black or Latino by 2066.
Experts call this a source of opportunity for the state, but also say Kansas will face increasing challenges unless racial and ethnic disparities are addressed in education, health and other areas.
“Change is gonna happen no matter what,” said Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation. “This change is coming, so either we view it as an opportunity or we don’t, and I think we need to view it as an opportunity.”
From 2000-2016, all the population growth in Kansas was among racial and ethnic minorities.
In that same time period, non-Hispanic white Kansans decreased by 0.3 percent while minority populations (any group other than non-Hispanic white) increased by 52.5 percent — a rate higher than the 44.8 percent average in the United States.
However, the United States as a whole is changing more rapidly than Kansas: The country is expected to become majority people of color by the year 2045. Sedgwick County is projected to experience the change between 2041 and 2046.
The data comes from the Kansas Health Foundation and Kansas Health Institute’s new report, “A Changing Kansas: Implications for Health and Communities.” The report was discussed at the foundation’s symposium in Wichita on Thursday.
Most of the growth in Kansas will come among Hispanics, who are projected to grow by 286.9 percent and make up 36 percent of Kansans by 2066.
The only places in Kansas that experienced growth in the non-Hispanic white population from 2000-2016 were in counties in or in close proximity to Kansas City, Manhattan and Wichita.
In contrast, the minority population grew in every county in the state, even as the overall number of residents in most counties declined.
The report details how racial and ethnic minorities have less access to health care, lower high school graduation rates and higher poverty rates than non-Hispanic whites. This means that Kansans will have to grapple with those disparities even more as those populations grow, the report says.
“Education’s already a big issue to Kansas, so how do we focus even more attention on education in the future to make sure all people receive a good education?” Coen said. “Those are the kind of challenges we have to face going forward.”
Yet Coen also points out that the increase in population has benefited employers and been an overall boost to the economy. Without the growth in minorities, there wouldn’t have been any population growth in Kansas in recent years.
Dr. Manuel Pastor, professor at the University of Southern California, spoke about those disparities at the symposium. New evidence shows that regions working toward equity have stronger and more resilient economic growth for everyone, he said.
“The good news is what we make, not what we see in the current data,” he said.
The changing landscape of the country has resulted in fear and anxiety for some. A study conducted by a University of Pennsylvania political scientist concluded that support for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election was largely “about dominant groups that felt threatened by change … For the first time since Europeans arrived in this country, white Americans are being told that they will soon be a minority race.”
It was that fear of demographic change that led to chants of “You will not replace us” in Charlottesville, said journalist Maria Hinojosa, who spoke at the symposium.
She said while she understands the fear of people who feel like they can’t recognize their country, she sees something different.
“I see that demographic change is coming in Kansas and it has saved you,” said Hinojosa, who is the executive producer of Latino USA on NPR. “…Just like it was for Dorothy, it’s going to be OK.”
For Ernestor De La Rosa, living in a “majority minority” place has already become a reality. He was 13 when he moved to the United States from Mexico, where he eventually became a DACA recipient. He now works as assistant to the city manager and human resources director at Dodge City.
Local governments have to be equipped to serve a more diverse community, De La Rosa said, something that requires having more people of color in leadership.
While some fear demographic change, that fear largely arises from lack of exposure, he said. There are already places where people have become comfortable with diversity, whether in New York City or Dodge City, he said.
“People live there (in southwest Kansas) because they want to live there,” De La Rosa said. “We appreciate the culture and the diversity.”