Last week, our nation witnessed history in the making. The state of New Jersey elected its first African-American senator and became only the second state after Hawaii to have two minorities serving at the same time in the U.S. Senate. Cory Booker, a rising political star, was the people’s favorite and was projected to win the election. Earning 55 percent of the vote over Republican opponent Steve Lonegan, it was clear who New Jerseyans wanted to represent them. Booker’s election not only marks a historic time for New Jersey, but it sends a message to Congress about the road ahead.
Once Newark Mayor Cory Booker is sworn in as U.S. Senator, he will join fellow Democrat and Cuban-American Senator Bob Menendez – marking the first time in U.S. history that two minorities will represent the same state at the same time in the Senate. Filling the seat left open by the passing of Frank Lautenberg, Booker will fulfill the remaining 15 months of Lautenberg’s term. The Senator-elect will then reappear on the ballot in 2014 should he choose to seek a full six-year term in that seat. If voting trends continue on the same path since the 2008 presidential election, Booker will likely secure the vote once again and continue adding a new perspective to Congress’ racial makeup.
The upper house of Congress has long been dominated by non-Hispanic white men. But Senator-elect Booker and Senator Menendez’s positions in the New Jersey Senate are clear indicators of Congress’s diverse future. This will become more apparent as the Millennial generation ages.
According to a Pew Research Center study titled, “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next,” those generally born between 1981 and 2000 are more racially tolerant than their elders. The study also finds that “Millennials are the most open to change of any generation.” This should come as no surprise. Millenials, also known as Generation X, grew up in a time when the U.S. population saw drastic growth in its minority population. As a result, it became more common to see people of various backgrounds, religions and ethnicities in schools, giving children the opportunity to interact with different kinds of people at a much younger age. This, as the Pew study suggests, is one of the reasons why the Millennial generation is so tolerant and why, for the first time ever, voters elected a half African-American, half Caucasian president by a landslide.
Currently serving in the Senate are two African Americans (not including Booker), three Hispanic-Americans, and two Asian-Americans, according to the United States Senate briefing on ethnic diversity. Though these minority senators only represent seven of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate today, their presence will surely grow. As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, it is likely that so will Congress. Not only will communities benefit from a more diverse Congress, but legislators will have to change their approach to voters and further prioritize the needs of growing minority communities if they are to seek re-election.
America’s racial and ethnic minorities now make up about half of the under-five age group, according to the Census Bureau. And programs and scholarships are helping minority students close the educational gap that once prevented them from a professional and successful future largely enjoyed by their white counterparts. This population shift in diversity and education will not only affect the country’s economy and culture, but it will affect the outcome of U.S. political elections for the foreseeable future.
The growing U.S. Hispanic population, for instance, has already had an incredible impact on the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. The U.S.-Hispanic population has grown to nearly 50 million, and they spend $1 trillion a year, according to a 2012 Nielsen report on Hispanic consumers. As a result, political parties and organizations are putting Hispanic issues at the top of their to-do list and are now paying attention to some of the Hispanic community’s needs and concerns, such as immigration reform. Two decades ago, this was not the case.
In the end, everything is a numbers game. As the minority segment grows, we may expect to see more qualified minorities running for office. With each new generation, we should expect to see voters electing more members of diverse backgrounds (provided there are such candidates to choose from). The more diverse Congress becomes, the greater the chance that minority issues will be prioritized on a higher level. What is needed in the end is a Congress that reflects diversity; because it is the contribution of different perspectives that truly helps us make better decisions.