WASHINGTON (AP) — Multiracial Americans have become the fastest growing demographic group, wielding an impact on minority growth that challenges traditional notions of race.
The number of multiracial people rose 3.4 percent last year to about 5.2 million, according to the latest census estimates. First given the option in 2000, Americans who check more than one box for race on census surveys have jumped by 33 percent and now make up 5 percent of the minority population — with millions more believed to be uncounted.
Demographers attributed the recent population growth to more social acceptance and slowing immigration. They cited in particular the high public profiles of Tiger Woods and President Barack Obama, a self-described "mutt," who are having an effect on those who might self-identify as multiracial.
Population figures as of July 2008 show that California, Texas, New York and Florida had the most multiracial people, due partly to higher numbers of second- and later-generation immigrants who are more likely to "marry out." Measured by percentages, Hawaii ranked first with nearly 1 in 5 residents who were multiracial, followed by Alaska and Oklahoma, both at roughly 4 percent.
Utah had the highest growth rate of multiracial people in 2008 compared to the previous year, a reflection of increasing social openness in a mostly white state.
"Multiracial unions have been happening for a very long time, but we are only now really coming to terms with saying it's OK," said Carolyn Liebler, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in family, race and ethnicity.
"I don't think we've nearly tapped the potential. Millions are yet to come out," she said.
In Middletown, N.J., Kayci Baldwin, 17, said she remembers how her black father and white mother often worried whether she would fit in with the other kids. While she at first struggled with her identity, Baldwin now actively embraces it, sponsoring support groups and a nationwide multiracial teen club of 1,000 that includes both Democrats and Republicans.
"I went to my high school prom last week with my date who is Ecuadoran-Nigerian, a friend who is Chinese-white and another friend who is part Dominican," she said. "While we are a group that was previously ignored in many ways, we now have an opportunity to fully identify and express ourselves."
The latest demographic change comes amid a debate on the role of race in America, complicating conventional notions of minority rights.