Future of the Portland region shaped by diversity, says Pastor
"A sustainable planet will require sustainable policies and that's going to require sustainable politics and a conversation," said Manuel Pastor, an expert on economic and social equity.
It hit the front page of the New York Times in May 2012, but some version of the headline appeared in most metropolitan papers and online newsrooms across the country.
According to the 2010 census, the majority of children being born in the United States today are children of color.
The tipping point, the census revealed, arrived in a 12-month period ending July 2011, when births of non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the United States, while the combined total of Hispanic, African-American, Asian and mixed race births rose to just over 50 percent.
Looking forward, for the nation to succeed, asserts Manuel Pastor, Ph.D., nationally recognized economic and social equity expert, these children must succeed.
Diversity and equity as factors for prosperity
Addressing a Metro Council Chamber packed with about 150 representatives from area chambers of commerce, community-based organizations, research universities, local governments, and the general public, Pastor led a 90-minute conversation about what success as a more racially and ethnically diverse nation – and region – looks like.
"America's tomorrow is a young Latina trying to learn science," Pastor said. "It's a young Asian/Pacific Islander interested in art, it’s a young African-American, it's also young whites… it's a changing demographic, not just in United States but also in Oregon."
Pastor shared census data indicating that in Oregon, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, African Americans and other non-white youth populations experienced a growth rate increase of roughly 43 percent in the decade ending in 2010. The growth rate for non-Hispanic white youth actually dropped by 13 percent for the same period.
Using a combination of demographic data storytelling and humor, Pastor built the case for the changing demographics and issues of equity and inclusion as critical factors for a strong economy – specifically, he said, by looking at what's happening at the regional level.
"Some of the work that we've been doing has been looking at the relationship between inequality and economic growth in regions," Pastor said. "What we've been finding out is that those regions that do a better job of reducing income inequalities, that do a better job of reducing racial segregation, that do a better job of targeting the reduction of poverty, actually grow more rapidly and more sustainably over time."
Investing in a younger, more diverse majority
In his presentation, "Looking Forward: Linking prosperity, inclusion and sustainability in metropolitan America," Pastor interpreted the data represented in line graphs and bar charts using real time stories from other regions across the country, decades of research, and his own family history.
Pastor's father came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant in 1930s. When given the choice of being deported or joining the U.S. Army to fight in World War II, he went to war and came back with the benefits of the G.I. Bill that helped him go to college and buy a home.
"My father's generation was called the Greatest Generation, but it got great through public investment," Pastor said.
Returning to the data, Pastor noted for the audience the median age for Latinos in the United States is 27 but for non-Hispanic whites, it's 42.
"Forty-two to 27," Pastor said. "It's a generation gap… and it has real consequences in terms of public politics and public policy."
Generation gap drives investment
In areas where the generation gap is the biggest, Pastor said, public investment in future generations and human capital is the lowest.
The demographic gap for Portland, he pointed out, is greater than it is for the country as a whole, because of a slightly younger white population but a much younger Latino population than the national median ages.
"We are not going to get there in terms of trying to figure out how to get that investment spending up by changing demography," Pastor said. "We're going to get there by changing the story and changing the connections between generations."
Changing the story to put equity at the center of policymaking and politics starts with coming together around shared data, insists Pastor, best done at the regional level.
"We think that metropolitan levels are an important place to do that because they are places where people come face to face, race to race, place to place in conversation," Pastor said. "If you don't pay attention to poverty, you may wind up seeing it drag down your entire metropolitan region."
Starting a face-to-face conversation
Gathered in a regional center to hear Pastor speak, the diverse-cross section of audience members started the conversation at the first break with Pastor's direction to "find someone you haven't met before and just talk to them about what was striking about what you've just heard, and what was missing."
"It's going to be really important to continue to work with the African-American population in Portland," said attendee Dwayne Johnson, president of Ideal Portland, a nonprofit organization promoting equitable access for entrepreneurs of color to the 21st century innovation economy.
"(The data for Portland shows) African-Americans are a smaller part of the total population," Johnson said. "As other populations continue to grow, it's going to become harder for them to participate in economic development of the region."
Pastor's bar chart for changing demographics in Oregon indicated that for the years 1990 to 2010, the African-American population remained constant at 2 percent of the total population. In contrast, the Latino population for the same time period grew from 4 percent to 12 percent, a 200 percent increase.
Pastor's case studies demonstrating the more equitable a community, the more sustainable and resilient the region, prompted an observation about inclusion from audience member KaRin R. Johnson, deputy director of the Multnomah County Health Department.
"Everything we do in sustainability is about sustaining life yet I often feel that people of color and vulnerable populations are often left out of the sustainability equation," she said. "So often in sustainability we tend to focus on things – bikes, cars and plastic but we neglect the human aspect."
Pastor closed with a call for a new style of leadership that moves beyond interest-based arguments to values-based arguments.
"A sustainable planet will require sustainable policies and that's going to require sustainable politics, and a conversation," Pastor said, "a bigger and broader and rounder conversation by all of us about how we craft a better future for Portland, for Oregon and for America."
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported demographic data from Pastor's presentation. Non-white youth populations experienced 43 percent growth in the decade from 2000-2010. This version has been updated.