Though their past gaffes haven't faded away, those fearless pro forecasters, heading into a new decade, have no hestitation in putting a . . . : Finger on Fate : The Changing U.S. Beat

"I don't describe my work as actually making predictions--I think of a prediction as something very specific--but I do try to say where things are going," said economist Martha Farnsworth Riche. "I focus on what's happening to the American household and specifically the American consumer."

Riche is editor of the Numbers News, a monthly newsletter published by Dow Jones & Co. Inc.'s prestigious American Demographics Inc., which tracks national trends and shifts. In her Ithaca, N.Y., office, Riche sifts through newspapers, magazines, government reports, polls and surveys to compile the socioeconomic data that helps her analyze what's happening in America.

What was her year's major story? Pondering the dozens of trends reported throughout 1989 in Numbers News, Riche settled on an October story documenting the disappearance of a traditional majority in America--the white male.

"White males are a declining share of the population," said Riche, whose report analyzed Census Bureau statistics on racial/ethnic changes in order to come up with the projection that white males would constitute 37% of the U.S. population in 1990.

This is down from about 42% in 1980 and is the continuation of a long-term pattern, she said.

"Two factors are at work here. Immigration, which has shifted to Hispanics and Asians, accounts for an increasing share of our population growth. Then you add in that white fertility rates are at record lows and, although they are declining, fertility rates for blacks and Hispanics are still much higher than for whites. We project that by the year 2030, white men will be only 32% of the U.S. population.

"This signals the passing of something that has been a fundamental characteristic of our society," Riche continued. "It has a lot of implications for the future. The white male has been the dominant decision maker and actor in our society--the person who pulled the strings. I've just finished my Jan. 1 newsletter, and my whole point for the 1990s is that almost all the demographic trends--like the disappearance of the white male majority--are pushing us toward more diversity."

And what this means, she said, is that no one group will dominate the American scene in the 1990s, whether the focus is on business, politics, entertainment, pop music or fashion. And for the average American consumer, that should mean lots of choices in the marketplace.

The changes are already showing up in the media, she noted.

"Suddenly in TV and magazine advertising we are seeing people of all ages and colors depicted as real people with individual needs, not as stereotypes."

This is a trend that will continue, she said. "In the 1990s, neither Chevrolet nor any other consumer marketer can count on appealing to the 'Heartbeat of America,' because America's heart will be beating to so many different drummers."

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