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Shifting demographics

Latinos have replaced African Americans as the second most populous minority group in the United States. More and more places, like the state of California, are majority minority: no single group makes up more than 50 percent of the population.

The U.S. currently takes in more immigrants than ever before — almost a million a year. These new legal residents keep the United States growing and full of new ideas. Illegal immigration is a real problem for social service providers; at least 12 million undocumented people from other countries are flooding the educational and health care systems. Illegal immigrants also pay taxes and seldom collect long-term benefits. Estimates indicate that one of every hundred dollars paid into the Social Security system comes from an illegal immigrant who will never be eligible to collect benefits.

In the early 21st century, Asian Americans families made 20 percent more money than the average white household. Many believe the three million American Indians and others who were part American Indian made up as big a population as was present when Columbus arrived. Some American Indian income went up as tribes operated gambling casinos in 29 states and took in billions of dollars a year in revenue.

In addition, Americans in the land of the free keep more of their citizens in prison than any other advanced society. The number of people in prison has gone up from less than 400,000 in 1980 to more than 2 million in the early 21st century. This increase was part of a great U.S. experiment to see whether locking up perpetrators actually held down crime. It seemed to work; major crime was down in the U.S. in the early 21st century.

Into the future

Escaping urban problems, most Americans live in the suburbs. With air conditioning, more and more people live comfortably in the hot climates of the South and West. Both of these trends have increased energy demands and made coping with global climate change that much more challenging. Every year is hotter than the historic average, and the polar icecaps are melting.

Americans are used to being distrusted for their affluence and feared for their easygoing cultural influence around the world. They are often seen by those who don't like them as soft, yet Americans have stood up to frontier wars and civil wars; militarism, Nazism, Communism, discrimination, and terrorism. Americans are still working to break down the barriers of discrimination among races and ethnic groups. They still welcome the world. For better or for worse, the U.S. is more than just its past; the United States of America is the future.

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