The 2040 Initiative?

The year 2040. That’s 27 years from now—about a generation away.

A little over a year ago, my colleague David Weber and I were having lunch (Moroccan chicken—mine was a little underdone)… Dave is a corporate guy who teaches contracts and M&A and who is also our immigration guru.  An odd combination, but the common thread apparently (I asked him once) is that he likes statutes. To each their own…

Dave is also passionate, in that way that only Minnesotans can get passionate, about social justice.

I’m a bit of a jill-of-all-trades at the law school—PR, T&E, ADR (maybe I just handle the alphabet-soup classes)—with expertise in local government and a particular interest in education.

My passion is civics—not falling-asleep-boring 9th-grade Civics, but the civics of the Civil Rights Movement, the civics of coming out—and the civics of evangelicals and the NRA. Civics, in other words, about ordinary people getting together and making things happen.

Anyway, there we were having lunch, and we started discussing a recent news item to the effect that for the very first time in our history, births of “minority” babies outnumber births of non-Hispanic White (“majority”) babies.

Extrapolating this out, the Census Bureau predicts that by 2040 the U.S. will be “majority-minority.” (Even our language around this is going to have to change!)

Wow. National identity crisis. Major implications for politics (this was before the 2012 re-election of Obama with 44% of the Latino vote—up 8% from 2008).

We forgot our chicken as one insight followed another.

“Wouldn’t it be exciting,” said one of us finally, “to look at the intersection of this huge demographic trend with law and with politics!?”…“Absolutely!” said the other.

“Why don’t we call it The 2040 Initiative!”


The more we thought about it, the more we realized that this racial/ethnic shift isn’t the only demographic wave that we’re riding.

In 2011, for example, the first of the baby-boomers—the massive post-WW II generation born 1946-1964—turned 65.   As the baby-boomers age, the number of people in the U.S. 65 and older will more than double by 2050.

When you put just these two trends together (there are lots of others), you get a population distribution that’s young and “minority” on the one hand and old and “majority”—really let’s just be honest and say “White”—on the other.  This is already the case today, but it’s going to get more and more so in the near future.

Will these trends lead to deep social, political, legal divisions?  Are they already?  Is demography, as the old saw goes, destiny?

Interested as Dave and I are in sociology, demographics, and policy, we’re just a couple of law types.  We called in the social science reinforcements.

Our Political Science colleague Sue Crawford not only has academic cred, she is a newly-elected member of the Nebraska State Legislature (for those of you who never got this because you were asleep in your 9th-grade Civics class, Nebraska has a unicameral [one-house] state legislature).  Sue agreed that this “2040” idea sounded interesting and signed on to be part of our inter-disciplinary group.

Our Sociology colleague Rebecca Murray, chair of her department, has a particular interest in policing and crime, especially in the urban context.  And she has a depth of familiarity with data, data sources, and data analysis that are indispensable in any initiative involving demographics. Rebecca also jumped on board.

This fall, the four of us will be co-teaching an interdisciplinary law seminar that will fold in some undergraduates. After an introduction to the basics of data and politics and law to get everyone on the same page, we’ll plunge in to the work of looking at how demographic trends—past as well future—affect politics as well as existing laws and future laws.

Our agenda is ambitious: health care, immigration, education, criminal justice, family care, redistricting, and tax policy—and more.

In addition to the class, we’re initiating this blog. There will be contributions from the four of us, from the students, and we hope from others who are interested.

The 2040 Initiative is designed to provide a forum for perspectives that will help us address the challenging issues that face our nation as we move forward—and to contribute to facing them together.



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