For the first time ever, white births in the United States are no longer in the majority, according to US Census Bureau estimates Thursday that underscored the growth of the Hispanic population.
Hispanics, blacks, Asians, indigenous peoples and those of mixed ethnicity or race accounted for 50.4 percent of births in the 12 months to July 2011, the federal agency said in a statement.
That compares to 49.5 percent from the last national census taken in April 2010.
Leading the trend were Hispanics, who remained the biggest (52 million) and fastest-growing (up 3.1 percent from 2010) of all groups.
"This boosted the Hispanic share of the nation's total population (of 311,592,000) to 16.7 percent in 2011, up from 16.3 percent in 2010," the Census Bureau reported.
"This is a sign that the future is here," Vanessa Cardenas, director of the Progress 2050 program at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, told AFP.
"It adds urgency to the fact that we need investment in communities that are growing the most," especially investment in education, she said.
Whites still made up the largest single share of the total births, at 49.6 percent. They also constituted a majority of the overall population of the United States at 63.4 percent.
But as the Census Bureau projected in 2008, they will no longer be in the majority by 2042.
"I think it is historic, both literally and figuratively," said Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, commenting on Thursday's data.
"It means we are going to have to work harder to make sure that all children get a good education, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, so that we can remain a strong country," Sawhill told AFP.
William Frey, also at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times the estimates reflected a "transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multi-ethnic country that we are becoming."
At the Pew Hispanic Center, demographer Jeffrey Passel noted that Hispanics in the United States are "squarely within their peak fertility" with a population median age of 27.
In the period between 2000 and 2010, he told the New York Times, more Hispanic births were recorded in the United States than Hispanics immigrants arriving in the country.
In absolute numbers, the Census Bureau put the national Hispanic population at 52 million, followed by African Americans at 43.9 million and Asians -- the second fastest growing minority group -- at 18.2 million.
California had the largest Asian population of any state at 5.8 million, and Los Angeles the largest Asian population of any county at 1.6 million. American Indians and Alaskans accounted for 6.3 million nationwide.
The Census Bureau also reported "a small uptick" in the nation's median age to 37.3, and estimated the size of the current over-65 population at 41.4 million, including 5.7 million aged 85 or older.
At the other end of the population spectrum, the number of children under 18 slipped fractionally since April 2010 to 74 million "largely because of the decline of high school age children 14 to 17," the agency said.