A combination of economic and demographic shifts is transforming society and culture across the United States. For some time now, low birth rates among affluent white Americans have been eroding their majority status, while immigration and higher birth rates have increased the proportion of minority populations. Combined, minority populations will make up the majority of Americans by 2050, according to projections by the Pew Research Center. The non-Hispanic white population is expected to drop to less than 50% by that time, and the Hispanic population to increase as high as 29%. The Asian population also is projected to increase to about 9%. Larger numbers and increased affluence have given minority groups greater influence in politics and society. Much was made of the impact minority voters had on the 2012 presidential election, 80% of whom supported President Obama and are credited with awarding him a second term. The record number of Latinos who cast ballots for president last year are the leading edge of an ascendant ethnic voting bloc that is likely to double in size within a generation.
Another much-publicized change is the shrinking size, wealth and influence of the middle class, whose values and gains in affluence, education and clout fueled the economy and defined popular culture in the second half of the 20th century. For the past decade, however, the middle class has experienced a loss of real wealth (mostly in home value and retirement benefits), wage stagnation, higher unemployment and a loss of identity as minorities and alternative lifestyles have come to dominate mass media and social policy issues. Middle class families also comprise a substantial proportion of the “sandwich” generation, so-called because they are financially and otherwise supporting their aging parents and adult children. As a consequence, they are less optimistic about the future of the country and worry that their children will have a lower quality of life than they have enjoyed.
At opposite ends of the spectrum, the aging of the population and the Millennials’ struggle to find suitable employment will have a profound impact on the workforce. Baby boomers in certain occupations and those with government pensions will be retiring in large numbers, while those who need or want to continue working will face declining opportunities. Educated Millennials who currently are forced to take service jobs will lack the experience to fill the higher level positions held by retiring boomers and will sustain lower earnings over their lifetime. Meanwhile, talented Millennials are creating a separate, entrepreneurial economy and may forgo careers with traditional corporations and institutions altogether.
As these forces converge, interior designers are likely to see a change in their clientele and in their needs, tastes and desires. In addition, with a high proportion of interior design professionals who currently are 55 and older, the industry can expect to see a large turnover in experienced designers and in principals or owners of firms.