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October 22, 2014

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Race, age divide Nevada

Once again, Nevada stands out in a new round of statistics about emerging demographic trends.

As a national population, we are polarizing along demographic lines - older citizens who are mostly white, and younger ones from the ranks of minorities , government numbers show .

The emerging racial generation divide, as sociologists and demographers call it, is more obvious in Nevada than most states, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data released this month.

The trend raises a host of questions affecting public policy issues and political agendas.

Will an older, white electorate be sympathetic to a large population of Hispanic, black and Asian-American non voting teens over such issues as, say, the need for new schools?

That question will play out next year when the Clark County School District seeks voter approval for a multibillion-dollar school construction bond, the largest such initiative in state history and the first since 1998 , when voters approved $4.9 billion for new educational facilities.

School officials hope the racial generation divide won't take a toll.

"This is not really a new problem for us," said Joyce Haldeman, the School District's executive director of community and government relations. "For many years, at least 70 percent of registered voters in Clark County have not had a child in the School District.

"The challenge we have always had is to prove that funding for schools is worth it. I don't see anything we will do different in light of this new report."

And apparently its campaign strategies have worked . Since 1986, the district has won voter approval for five school construction bond measures.

The Census Bureau reported that the nation's minority population topped 100 million in 2006 and that about one in three U.S. residents today is a minority.

The racial generation gaps are widest in California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, according to a New York Times analysis of the government's data.

Nevada State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle says non whites under voting age in Nevada have increased by more than 116,500 since 2000 and now make up 51 percent of the younger-than-18 population, compared with 44 percent in 2000.

Meanwhile, he said, the state's white population older than 50 has increased by nearly 140,000 . Among Nevadans older than 50, 79 percent are white, compared with 82 percent in 2000.

(The percentage of whites of all ages in Nevada as part of the state's population has dropped to 59 percent in 2006, from 66 percent in 2000.)

Hardcastle said the data confirm what has long been thought about the growth of certain minority groups.

Hardcastle said the emergence of a large young Hispanic population in Nevada began in the mid-1990s.

Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics in Las Vegas, said Hispanic activists struggle for political support from older whites .

"We've already seen how it has hurt in recent years when highly qualified Hispanics ran in county wide races and lost," he said. "We've seen white voters with little knowledge of either candidate vote for the opponent of the Hispanic candidate based on name alone."

Mark Mather, deputy director of domestic programs for the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., says the racial generation gap is a relatively recent phenomenon and may not be long-lived because immigrant fertility rates follow historic trends and taper off by the third or fourth generation.

Mather says more than one in five children in the United States either is foreign-born or has a parent who was born abroad. Such demographics have changed the face of Nevada and America.

"Nevada is at the cutting edge of America's new demographic shifts," said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

Frey said such shifts can be attributed to the spillover of Hispanics and Asian-Americans from California, new immigrants and in-migration of aging whites.

As the minority population ages, more are joining the ranks of voters. The Census Bureau found that Nevada's voting-age population boomed 25 percent from 2000 to 2006, with minorities accounting for 63 percent of that increase. School officials say that although that statistic doesn't guarantee smooth sailing, it certainly helps their cause.

"Younger, burgeoning families understand the need for things like new schools," Haldeman said. "They are our best supporters."

Romero disagreed, cautioning that an increase in the numbers and percentages of Hispanics - the nation's fastest - growing minority group - will not necessarily translate into more votes for new schools.

Increases in Hispanic voter rolls don't necessarily keep pace with overall growth of the Hispanic population, Romero noted.

And although the number of Hispanic voters has increased in Clark County from fewer than 55,000 in 2000 to 75,000 today, Romero warns they can vary in the degree of support for issues, as all races do.

"Many of these younger voters do not have those deep roots that exist in other communities," Romero said. "They do not always identify with issues like the need for new schools. They are still getting their feet wet."

Veteran local political consultant Kent Oram said larger ethnic groups "are not voting near to the proportion of their numbers."

From census information and a search of surnames, Oram estimates that, nationally, white voters outnumber minorities by more than 2-to-1.

Demographic expert Frey says that when you combine the national patterns - the racial generation gap, new immigration sources and aging Baby Boomers - "Nevada becomes the epitome of the new demography in the United States.

"It's no wonder the politicians have made Nevada an early primary state."

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