Census: Whites will become a minority sooner

White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2042, according to government projections released today. That's eight years sooner than previous estimates, made in 2004.

The nation has been growing more diverse for decades, but the process has sped up through immigration and higher birth rates among minority residents, especially Hispanics.

"The white population is older and very much centered around the aging baby boomers who are well past their high fertility years," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "The future of America is epitomized by the young people today. They are basically the melting pot we are going to see in the future."

The Census Bureau released population projections through 2050, based on rates for births, deaths and immigration. They are subject to big revisions, depending on immigration policy, cultural changes and natural or manmade disasters.

The U.S. has nearly 305 million people today. The population is projected to hit 400 million in 2039 and 439 million in 2050.

Here's what to expect, according to the Census Bureau:

-Non-Hispanic whites, who make up two-thirds of the population today will number 203 million in a nation of 439 million by 2050.

-The number of Hispanics is projected to triple by 2050, when they'll make up nearly a third of the population. Spurring Hispanic growth is a high birth rate, with immigration is an important but lesser factor, according to the bureau.

-The black population will grow by just 1 percentage point, from 14 percent of the total this year to 15 percent in 2050. At that point, Hispanics will outnumber blacks by two to one, the report said.

-Asians will grow from 5 percent to 9 percent of the population.