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Encore Presentation: 300 Million: Melting Pot or Meltdown?

Aired December 31, 2006 - 13:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Welcome to "300 Million, Melting Pot or Meltdown", a special edition of 360.
Tonight, we're on the brink of a milestone. Our population clock poised to hit 300 million. It's going to happen in about eight hours from now. The driving force behind the surge: immigrants and their descendents.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was born and raised right -- right here in Belton (ph), Georgia.

ANNOUNCER: A town now called Little Mexico, transformed by immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't know when to quit. They just keep on coming.

ANNOUNCER: She wants the old days back. Why that would be the death of the town.

Booming population, 46 million Americans without health insurance, many of them middle class. Just an illness away from disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be the breadwinner and I want to be the provider, but in this system that we exist today, it's hard.

ANNOUNCER: And commutes from hell. Long hours behind the wheel and getting longer. Why we're driving so hard for the American dream.

Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "300 Million: Melting Pot or Meltdown". Reporting from CNN's New York studios, here's Anderson Cooper.


COOPER: Thanks for joining us and good evening to our viewers around the world.

Right now, we are less than 12 hours away from a milestone with enormous implications. At 7:46 a.m., Eastern Time in the United States, the U.S. population is expected to hit 300 million. 300 million. We have reached this milestone faster than ever before. It took the nation 139 years to get to 100 million mark in 1915. And another 52 years to reach 200 million in 1967. But it will have taken just 39 years to hit the 300 million mark, which means that the country is getting bigger and much bigger much faster.

It is a fact that is literally reshaping our lives from who we are and where we live, to our politics and healthcare and the health of our environment.

This hour we are going to look at all of that and more including the driving force behind all of it. Immigration, a force both celebrated and condemned, depending on which side of the debate you are on.

More than half of the immigrants who come to the United States are from Latin America, the vast majority from Mexico. And they're not just settling in the southwest. We found a town that looks like it could be a Mexican border town, except it is 1,200 miles from the border in the state of Georgia.

The town was once a white clave, but it has been transformed. And not everyone who lives there is happy about that, as CNN's Rick Sanchez found out.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Dalton, Georgia, once a sleepy southern town, is now called "Little Mexico." Here is how one long-time resident describes what's happened.

BETTY MOTLEY, DALTON RESIDENT: Stores, grocery stores, clothes stores, they're making the United States their home.

SANCHEZ: Dalton used to be home almost exclusively to out of work farmers who in the 1950s left their farms to work in the carpet mills, and filled homes on blocks like these.

(On camera): Residents here are now telling me of all the homes on this block, only two are now lived in by non-Hispanics, and that's those two that you see right there behind me.

MOTLEY: I was borned and raised right here in Dalton, Georgia.

SANCHEZ: Betty Motley lives in one of those two homes that we just showed you.

You feel like something is being taken away from you?

MOTLEY: well, in a way I do.

SANCHEZ: What is that?

MOTLEY: My freedom. My country.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): But what Betty sees as her loss, is a huge gain for the area's booming carpet industry. (On camera): The folks over at the mill.

MOTLEY: Exactly right.

SANCHEZ: They're doing great, you know.

MOTLEY: Yes, they can pay them less money.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): In fact, on average, the immigrants are paid twice the minimum wage. So it is really about cheap laborers attracted from Mexico or did it have to do with a shortage of laborers?

We posed that question to one of the town's early pioneers, Irwin Mitchell, who is seen photographed here with not one, but two U.S. presidents.

You mean there weren't enough people to do the work?


SANCHEZ: By thousands?

MITCHELL: By many thousands.

SANCHEZ: Mitchell explains that those workers who came here in 1950s as unemployed farmers from Appalachia, began retiring around the 1990s. But their sons and daughters didn't want their jobs.

MITCHELL: The children of the older workers were going into other areas.

SANCHEZ: They did want to work in a factory?

MITCHELL: They didn't want to work in a factory.

SANCHEZ: Around that same time, the country was going through its largest economic expansion ever. And that caused the demand for carpet to skyrocket. Word spread among immigrants about great jobs in Dalton, Georgia. It was like a gold rush.

Dalton resident Anamaria Hernandez says in her family, her father was the first to arrive.

SANCHEZ: Who came first?

First your brothers came.


SANCHEZ: Then your mother came. And now you your entire family is here?


SANCHEZ: Today, Dalton is 40 percent Hispanic. Schools are 61 percent Hispanic. And we found out that four of every 10 babies are born to a Hispanic mom.

MOTLEY: The numbers that keeps building and building and building, and they don't know when to quit. They just keep a coming.

SANCHEZ: For old-time locals like Betty Motley, change is hard. But area business and civic leaders say the change for them has been good.

DAVID BRITTON, DALTON MECHANIC: They pay their bill, they pick their car when they say they are going to. They're never an issue.

SANCHEZ: This is permanent?

MITCHELL: Absolutely permanent.

SANCHEZ: Dalton, Georgia, a city in the midst of a massive transformation, one that does not appear to be reversible.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, Dalton.


COOPER: Well, it's fair to say that few programs have focused as in depth on the issue as CNN's Lou Dobbs. Tonight, I spoke with Lou earlier.


COOPER: Lou, there's certainly a lot of debate coming up about whether hitting 300 million is a good or a bad milestone for the country. What's your take?

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, my take is good or bad. That's where we are. But I think this is an important occasion for which all Americans should be asking themselves what kind of country do we want. And is it time for us to re-examine, given all of the demands on our environment, on this planet, and on this continent, as to whether or not we want to sustain this level of growth into the next century.

I think there's some real questions about it. And we need to have a debate and dialogue about that.

COOPER: If anything, I mean, this growth only seems to be continuing. Right now more than half of the current population growth is due to immigration, both legal and illegal. How do you think it's shaping the country?

DOBBS: Well, I think that that is really sort of immaterial to it, so long as you know, Anderson, it is legal immigration. I think whether the growth is from the natural birthrate or whether it's from immigration, we've got to ask ourselves, can this nation sustain 500 million people? Or 450, as it is supposed to be within just the next 75 years?

I mean, this is a remarkable growth rate. We are running out of resources on this planet, and we really need to ask ourselves how we want to live.

COOPER: Can we handle it? I mean, and where do you think that greatest burden will lie in the coming years? I mean, as the population only seems to increase, where does it start to stretch at the seams?

DOBBS: Well, we already know some of the places. One of those places is the western United States, which has been in drought or near drought conditions now for almost a decade. And we're in some states at a 500-year drought level.

Water is the critical resource in this nation, not oil as we would like to believe based on the prices and the amount of gasoline we're using. But water. And we really have a very limited resource in water. We need to understand that.

The second part, both for agriculture and for direct human consumption. We need also to understand what we are doing to arable land, with agriculture and the demands that we're placing on this, on our fields and in our agricultural sector.

We also need to think, do we really want to use up energy from all sorts of sources that would be necessary to support almost a half, a half a billion people in this country.

COOPER: The book is, "War on the Middle Class." Does the war continue as the population reaches 400 million?"

DOBBS: It intensifies, in my opinion, because as there is greater competition for dwindling resources, there will be even a greater demarcation between winners and losers. And the middle class in this country right now is definitely on the loser side of the chart.

COOPER: Lou Dobbs, thanks. Appreciate it, Lou.

DOBBS: Good to be with you, Anderson. Thank you.


COOPER: Well, the face of the U.S. is changing. From the languages we speak, to the homelands we leave behind. Here's the raw data. In 81 percent of American households, English is still the only language spoken; 12 percent of households are Spanish-speaking; and in 7 percent of households, another language is spoken.

Those numbers make sense when you consider these -- 53 percent of foreign U.S. residents were born in Latin America; 27 percent in Asia; 14 percent in Europe; and 4 percent in Africa.

We will be looking at immigration much more tonight. Here's a quick look at the big picture.


COOPER (voice-over): About twice a minute, once every 31 seconds, an immigrant arrives in the U.S. Some legally, others slipping across the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That I will support and defend the constitution and the laws of the United States.

COOPER: How ever they come, legally or illegally, the wave of immigrants is dramatically changing who we are.

(On camera): Here is the mirror -- 34 million of us, about 11 percent, are foreign-born. That's more than the entire population of Canada. Most are from Mexico. One-third here illegally, according to the Pugh Hispanic Center.

(Voice-over): And more than 80 percent of the population, whites are still a majority. But Hispanics, now at 14 percent, have surpassed blacks. And 13 percent is the largest minority. Asians are just over 4 percent.

(On camera): As for gender, women and men are about 50-50, though there are a few more women in part that's due to life expectancy. On average, women today live to 80, men to 75.

(Voice-over): Let's look at education and employment. More than 85 percent of us over age 25 have at least a high school diploma, and unemployment is under 5 percent.

(On camera): Most women today, 59 percent work outside the home, but they still earn less than men. The median salary for women is $32,000 a year. For men, it's $41,000.

The poverty rate has dropped, but about 37 million people and more than 12 percent of the population still live below the poverty line.

(Voice-over): As for that traditional American dream, well, more than 75 million people own their own home, and those houses are getting bigger and spreading out. Half of us today live in suburbia, lawns and two-car garages. But that brings an average commute to 25 minutes.

It is an article of faith that over time we have gotten less religious. In 1900 just over one percent of the population was non- religious. Today, it's more than 9 percent. Still, nearly 61 percent of us are Protestant, more than 21 percent Roman Catholic, and 2.5 percent Jewish. Islam and Buddhism each account for less than 2 percent of the population, but they are among the fastest growing religions. In fact, in less than 20 years, Islam will surpass Judaism in the U.S.

As for age -- well, we can't lie about it -- 24 years from now, in 2030, the first baby boomers will turn 84. If that doesn't get your attention, this will. One in every five of us will be over 65.

Perhaps the best mirror for all of this is our kids. Today almost half of all children under age five are members of a racial or ethnic minority. And that number will only grow; 34 years from now, in the year 2040, that group will outnumber white children under five. Finally, remember what we told you when this report started, that every 31 seconds an immigrant sets foot in this country? Well, that means that six immigrants arrived while you watched this story.


COOPER: Coming up to night, more on the changing racial picture, Latinos surpassing African-Americans as the largest minority group. It is changing neighborhoods and politics, and creating up a whole new set of challenges for a lot of people. We'll look at that.

And a tale of two children -- one well off, one in tougher circumstances, and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Then, 300 million people seems like they're all on the road all at the same time, when our special report continues.


COOPER: Well, according to the Census Bureau, nearly one in four Americans will be Latino by mid-century and by 2060, half the population will be non-white. The face of America is definitely changing, which in itself is neither good nor bad. It is, however, already challenging everyone to find new ways of getting along.

CNN's Randi Kaye looks at that.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tiny town of Willacoochee, Georgia, just 45 miles north of the Florida border, is a kind of demographic time machine into the future.

Some of the largest growth in Latinos in the United States has occurred right here, much to the dismay of many black residents. Racial tension here, having simmered between blacks and whites, is now, as they say, between blacks and browns.

JOYCE SOLOMON, ATKINSON COUNTY CLERK: Now, when you have another, you know, race that's coming in and trying to survive, jut like we're trying to survive, it just makes it that much harder.

KAYE: It's no secret here. Town's people say the two races don't get along. There's a language barrier and they're competing with each other for jobs and public assistance.

SOLOMON: There's always rumor that Hispanics are hard working. So if you have 10 openings in a factory or distribution center or whatever, the majority will go to the Hispanic.

KAYE: County Clerk Joyce Solomon says her daughter was laid off, then replaced by a Hispanic worker.

This man tells us his African-American neighbors turned down jobs he's willing to take. JOSE GRANADO, WILLACOOCHEE RESIDENT (through translator): They think we're stealing their work, but we're not stealing anything from anyone. On the contrary, we are going forward. I've never seen a black person that works like we do in the fields.

KAYE: But if there's anything that could unite Willacoochee...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do pray that we all can be as one.

KAYE: It just might be the longtime friendship of Pastors Harvey Williams and Atanacia Gaona, even though few others accept it.

REV. ATANACIO GAONA, IGLESIA ALFAY Y OMEGA: I can feel that look. You know, they're looking at us, kind of, what's going on with this.

KAYE: People stare because Pastor Gaona is Latino, Pastor Williams, black.

GHAONA (ph): I just see him as human being like myself.

KAYE (on camera): And what bout you?

REV. HARVEY WILLIAMS, UNION HOLINESS HOUSE OF DELIVERANCE: I saw him as just a human being. I've never saw color. I've never seen color. I've never -- I don't know, I just -- I've always been attracted to the people because of their character, rather than the color of their skin.

KAYE (voice-over): Pastor Gaona came here from Mexico 20 years ago. Part of a steady stream of Latino immigrants to Atkinson County. Today, half the preschoolers are Latino.

(On camera): These days in Atkinson County, blacks are outnumbered. Hispanics make up 21 percent of the population, blacks just 19 percent. Compare that to the 1960s, when the county was segregated and the nation's population was closer to 200 million. 30 percent of the population here was black and there were no Hispanics.

(Voice-over): Blacks are losing their edge and their place.

WILLIAMS: I don't think we should be on the critical side of this issue. I don't think we should be criticizing them. I think we should be learning from them. How are they able to do this? They're coming over and in just a few years they're able to purchase land and own property. And here we are, we was born here and they are exceeding us.

KAYE (on camera): And one day they plan to bring both congregations together for a service.

GAONA: They need to understand that we're different colors, but we're still human beings and we deserve respect. Every one of us.

KAYE (voice-over): A small town, a kind of imperfect mirror image of where much of this country may be headed. Randi Kaye, CNN, Willacoochee, Georgia.


COOPER: In just under four decades, our population has grown by 100 million people. Coming up, where all these new people are living and working, and how that is changing the country.

Also how the immigration boom is reshaping the country's religious profile. For young Muslims, life is a balancing act, just as it has been for generations of immigrants.

You are watching, "300 Million: Melting Pot or Meltdown?" A special edition of 360.



LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we owe it to ourselves, I think, to note and to remember that as welcome this 200th million American into our midst on the eve of our third century as a nation, that if we only congratulate ourselves on what we have done, we will really miss its meaning, which was that for 200 years, our people constantly said, make this nation better. Work for the future. Don't quit until the doors are open to everybody.


COOPER: That was President Lyndon Johnson, welcoming the 200 millionth American back in 1967.

And as we get ready to welcome the 300 millionth American, this country is vastly different.

Here is the raw data. There are now more than 34 million foreign-born people in the U.S., up from nearly 10 million back in '67. And we are living longer, almost 78 years. That's an increase of seven years. But we are also shelling out more money. The price of a new home, adjusted for inflation is now more than $290,000, up from more than $149,000 in 1967.

And nearly four decades later, with 100 million more people crowding the country, well, it's fair to say it is making a lot of people anxious. It's hard to really understand what the increase means without looking at where all these new people live and where they work. For that, you need a map and guide.

Here is CNN's Tom Foreman.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Go west was the urging to Americans 150 years ago. And it is followed to this day by people arriving from abroad, and Americans moving for economic opportunity within the United States.

(On camera): The west grew by 20 percent in the 1990s. No other part of the country grew that fast, although the south wasn't terribly far behind. The Midwest came in third in terms of population growth, and the northeast trailed with only about a quarter of the growth they had way out west. But how did we reach this point that we are growing all over the country? Well, that has been a long strange trip.

(Voice-over): When George Washington was president, there were only four million Americans, almost all living relatively close to the East Coast and farming for a living. The nation's expansion for a century was a slow spread across the continent as Americans grabbed more land.

By the time of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln's great test, 31 million people lived here.

After that conflict, as the nation rebuilt and moved on, a great wave of immigration filled the cities with people, consuming vast amounts of timber, coal, and steel. By the turn of the century, the population had more than doubled to 76 million.

This human ocean put so much pressure on natural resources that Teddy Roosevelt started protecting the countryside, establishing national parks coast to coast.

World War I and new federal limits on immigration slowed the population's growth for a while. It actually declined for the last time in 1918. The Great Depression also helped keep growth generally below 2 million people a year.

But after World War II, immigration rose again. And in the 1950s, American families started producing a great many more children. 28 million new citizens appeared in 10 years. The baby boom pushed the population over 200 million by the late '60s.

So, in the '70s American families were rethinking all of that fertility. Birthrates declined, and some thought that population stabilization was on the way, but it never arrived.

America, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, has continued to grow, north, south, east and west.



FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: That's how the U.S. population surge looks on the national map. Now the global view.

Here is another raw data. With the 300 million mark hours away, the United States is the third most populous country in the world, right behind India, with 1.1 billion; and behind China, with 1.3 billion. Combined, their populations make up nearly a quarter of the total world population, 6.5 billion. Here in the U.S., just like everywhere else, we are a nation of haves and have nots, about to hit 300 million.

Coming up, a tale of two kids, two very different paths; one rich, one poor. How the gap between the two keeps getting bigger.

And if you are poor in the U.S., you may stand a better chance of getting health insurance than some middle-class Americans. 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta, on the growing problem of the uninsured, when "300 Million: Melting Pot of Meltdown?" continues.


COOPER: Well, you can argue about whether a growing population and more immigration is good or bad for the country in the long term. In the short term, it's pretty clear. This growth spurt comes at a cost. Schools and social services, pushed to the breaking point.

And as CNN's Jason Carroll reports, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. His story takes place in two cities -- one, with one of the lowest rates of poverty in the country; the other, with one of the highest. You can call it a tale of two children.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Kyle Johnson. He's 13, a seventh grader in Plano, Texas. Down the interstate 650 miles away, in El Paso, Texas, another 13-year-old, also in 7th grade. His name is Bruce Navarez (ph). Both boys love to play basketball and soccer. But after that, their only real connection may be that highway. It connects two very different worlds.

Kyle lives here, a wealthy Dallas suburb with large homes and streets with names like Hearst Castle.

KYLE JOHNSON, PLANO, TEXAS RESIDENT: Growing up here is pretty good because there is not very many like bad things going on.

CARROLL: Over in El Paso, Bruce's life is full of rundown and boarded up apartments. Bruce is one of nearly 13 million children in America, 13 million who live in poverty. Kids like Bruce are three times more likely to drop out of high school than middle-class kids.

BRUCE NAVAREZ (ph): I wish I like, I go to, where there's not a lot of gangsters. And everything, and, like people are decent there live there.

CARROLL: El Paso straddles the border with Mexico. One out of four people live in poverty here, according to the latest census report.

In Plano, Kyle's hometown, only one out of 20 people live in poverty. Kyle appreciates what he has.

JOHNSON: Everybody would be so happy to have like a house or something like over their head, and like we've got all this stuff.

CARROLL: Kyle lives in this five-bedroom house with two brothers and his parents.

CARROLL (on camera): Show me some of the stuff you got around here.

(Voice-over): Kyle's bedroom is filled with trophies, toys and movie posters.

JOHNSON: Most of my friends, they all have like computers and cell phones, but I know there's other kids out there who don't have all of that.

CARROLL: Kyle's father is a periodontist; his mother, a stay-at- home mom. It's hamburgers for lunch at Kyle's house.

As for Bruce, his family rarely eats meat at home. It costs too much. His mother often serves casserole made of leftover tortillas.

(On camera): Bruce lives here in this tiny apartment with his nine siblings and his mother. They've turned every room into a bedroom.

This used to be the living room, but as you can see, there are bunk beds here now. Two of the boys double up in here.

(Voice-over): The children sleep in beds, but they have no sheets. Clutter everywhere.

Bruce's bedroom is a cramped space he shares with his brother. His walls, almost bare. Bruce has one toy, a stuffed animal, a gift he proudly showed us, but Bruce became emotional when he talked about the things other children have growing up.

Why are you crying, Bruce?

NAVAREZ (ph): I don't know.

CARROLL: Bruce's father left the family a few months ago. His mother, an unemployed farm worker, receives little more than $500 a month in Public Assistance. That's just $6,000 a year for 10 people.

Kyle Johnson hopes someday to be a professional soccer player or veterinarian.

JOHNSON: I feel like I could choose like anything that I wanted to.

CARROLL: At the other end of the interstate, Bruce is a top student. He wants to work and save money for college. He wants to beat the odds.

NAVAREZ (ph): I want to be a doctor or a police officer.

CARROLL: Determined, yet unsure of his chances for success. NAVAREZ (ph): 50-50.

CARROLL: You think it is 50-50?

NAVAREZ (ph): Yes.

CARROLL: Why is that?

NAVAREZ (ph): I don't know.

CARROLL: Well, sure you do. You have an idea. Why do you think it might be 50-50 for someone like you?

NAVAREZ (ph): Like, no kind of money.

CARROLL: Bruce Navarez (ph) seems realistic about his future. The other 13-year-old boy, Kyle Johnson, is also realistic. He sees no limits to what he can achieve.

Two boys, same age, same hopes and dreams; and yet their futures may only be connected by a long stretch of road.

Jason Carroll, CNN, El Paso, Texas.


COOPER: Hmm. Let's hope they both make it.

Medicaid often provides health insurance for many of the Americans living below the poverty line. But for many in the middle class, insurance is hard to come by.

Up next, 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta, on the challenges facing the millions of uninsured in this country.

And the long commute. Why more and more Americans are choosing that route, when "300 Million: Melting Pot or Meltdown?" continues.



COOPER: Well, the overall population isn't the only number surging in the United States. So is the number of Americans without health insurance. 46 million are uninsured. And many of them are middle-class Americans with jobs. They have been priced out of the health care market, and a lot of them have gone bankrupt. Others are just a serious illness away from financial catastrophe.

360 M.D., Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Layla Barr had been told she wouldn't be able to have children. So it was a little surprising when she found out she was pregnant. LAYLA BARR, UNINSURED: When we found out that we were pregnant, we had not been trying to get pregnant, so we were a little scared, but very excited.

GUPTA: But that wasn't the only surprise.

BARR: I went to go get health insurance, because we thought, well, this is important.

GUPTA: Layla and her husband, Emmet, had worked as chefs for more than 10 years. And while their marriage and professions were made in culinary heaven, health benefits were not part of the bargain. For years they had paid for health insurance on their own, until six years ago Emmet had hernia surgery and their insurance company denied the claim, leaving the Barrs with $24,000 debt.

BARR: We just ended up putting it on a credit card, you know, which is not, it's not a good answer.

GUPTA: They were healthy, so they decided that paying their debt was more important than continuing their health insurance. Four years later, she was pregnant.

BARR: That was a total blessing for us, but within sort of thrust into, OK well what do we do now?

GUPTA: The Barrs tried to get insurance again, but were told they needed to have coverage a year before the pregnancy to qualify. They tried Public Assistance, but had too many assets to apply. Their only option was to pay out of pocket for birth of their daughter, Isabella, and hope that nothing went wrong.

BARR: When we found out that we couldn't get health insurance to cover the prenatal care and labor and delivery and postnatal care, we were scared for other reasons. You know, what if there was a complication with the pregnancy? What if there was complication with labor and delivery? Financially, it could be totally devastating for us.

GUPTA: In fact, health care costs are the number one reason Americans file for bankruptcy. With nowhere else to turn, the Barrs negotiated directly with the hospital for delivery and doctors fees and took a second mortgage on their home to pay the $20,000 cost.

BARR: To have a baby, you shouldn't have to take out a second mortgage on your house.

EMMET BARR, UNINSURED: We're one of the wealthiest nations in the world, if not the most. It just doesn't make sense to me how we can't cover our citizens.

GUPTA: They are not alone. 46 million Americans have no health insurance. And the Barrs belong to one of the fastest growing demographics, the uninsured middle class. An independent study found 41 percent of middle-income Americans had no health insurance for part of 2005. That's up from 28 percent in just four years. Why are so many Americans uninsured?

RON POLLACK, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FAMILIES USA: Health care costs are skyrocketing at the same time that wages are very stagnant. And so employers are having a tough time continuing to pay for health care coverage. Workers simply can't afford health care coverage. And as a result, more and more people are being priced out of the health care they used to take for granted.

GUPTA: Ron Pollack, who heads a consumer health care lobbying group says the growing number of uninsured is a national health care crisis.

POLLACK: Members of Congress and the president, they've got pretty good health insurance. And, you know, if we had some kind of a law that said, you, member of Congress, you can't have better health insurance than your own constituents, this problem would get fixed really quickly.

GUPTA: The Barrs don't see any immediate way out of their health care crisis, but are looking into state child health care programs.

E. BARR: When it comes down to it, we have to decide between gas and groceries or insurance for the family. That's tough, you know. I want to be the breadwinner and I want to be the provider, but in this system that we exist today, it's hard.

GUPTA: In the meantime, they just hope that they and Isabella stay healthy.

E. BARR: Every day that I wake up, I'm an accident or an illness away from not being able to provide for my family. And that's the cold hard facts.

GUPTA: A fact that millions of Americans also are facing everyday.


COOPER: Sanjay, she's pregnant and can't get insurance. That might surprise some people, but it's actually pretty common?

GUPTA (on camera): It is becoming increasingly common, Anderson. And it's also quite standard as well. People who become pregnant, or if they develop some sort of illness, have a very difficult time going back and getting health insurance.

Health insurance is set up for the situation in case something develops. But if that thing is developed, whether it be pregnancy or some other sickness, it's very hard to go back and buy the insurance or it's very expensive. And a lot of people, middle class as we pointed out in this piece, fall into this category where they don't keep the health insurance, but then suddenly need it and can't get it.

COOPER: Tough situation. Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you. COOPER: We'll have more coming up on our changing country. Young Muslim Americans speaking out on their balancing when "300 Million: Melting Pot or Meltdown?" continues.



Religion in U.S. 2025

Christians: 82.4 percent Nonreligious: 10 percent Muslims: 1.9 percent Jews: 1.7 percent


COOPER: Well, as you can see there, the United States is still overwhelmingly a Christian nation, but Islam is growing fast. By 2026, it will be the nation's third largest religion. Look behind that statistic, and you'll find a balancing act that isn't always easy. Every wave of immigrants faces it, how to assimilate without giving up your entire identity.

Here is CNN's Delia Gallagher.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Ahmeds say they're just a typical American family. Nesrine (ph) and Syed came here to suburban New York from Pakistan 20 years ago. Their 16-year- old daughter, Hira, a high school junior. Amna, 15-years old, is on the swim team.

HIRA AHMED, MUSLIM TEENAGER: This is where I was born and raised, and I don't know anything else.

AMNA AHMED, MUSLIM TEENAGER: I feel American. I feel that, I also feel Pakistani.

GALLAGHER: For these young Muslims, growing up in America can mean a delicate balance between the demands of Islam and the all- American teenage experience.

(On camera): Do you feel like you need to be more modest in your dress?

A. AHMED: Definitely. In Islam, we are supposed to cover up to our ankles. And sometimes I wear capris or something.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Hira and Amna are part of a new generation of Muslims, the first to be born in this country.

Many of the estimated 6 million Muslims in the United States are immigrants.

(On camera): But it is their children, growing up both Muslim and American, who are changing the face of Islam in this country. GENEIVE ABDO, ISLAMIC ANALYST, GALLUP ORGANIZATION: The younger Muslims are trying to find, more or less, a third way between alienation and assimilation.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Geneive Abdo is a Gallup researcher and author of "Mecca and Main Street."

ABDO: They feel that they can be good, patriotic Americans, but also pious Muslims.

GALLAGHER: Amna and Hira say they've never felt discriminated against, but they do find many assume they're not American.

H. AHMED: People ask me all the time, where are you from? And it's like, well I'm from here. They're like, no, where are you really from. I'm really from here. I mean, where are your parents from? I'm like that's another story.

GALLAGHER (on camera): What do you think has been the most difficult thing about growing up Muslim in this country?

H. AHMED: I think there is, to be honest, a different culture that is out there, and you miss out on it sometimes. Having boyfriends, honestly, I mean, essentially, just that entire teen scene.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Being a traditional Muslim requires dedication, including prayers five times a day. With school, jobs and other distractions, it can be difficult.

You pray five times a day?

H. AHMED: I try to. It's a struggle.

A. AHMED: I pray five times a day. Sometimes during school, it's an issue. I come home and do that one. But in the morning, I wake up at 5 o'clock and pray.

GALLAGHER: In fact, it is Amna who wakes up her family to say their Islamic morning prayers. Even as they live more American lifestyles, Abdo says many young Muslims here are taking their faith more seriously than their parents have.

ABDO: They are placing importance on religion and culture and also language, even though their parents never insisted.

GALLAGHER: Syed says he respects their faith. But like many American parents, he also has a more immediate worry.

SYED AHMED, FATHER OF MUSLIM TEENAGERS: I am more concerned about where they are going to go to college in the next two years and how aim going to pay for it.

GALLAGHER: Balancing being Muslim and American.

Delia Gallagher, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A tricky balance indeed.

On the radar tonight, our report on bilingual education. The 360 blog has been busy with this one.

Christina in Chicago says, "Excuse me, but did my forbears come to America and receive lessons in Croatian, their native language? I don't think so."

Fred in Houston, writes, "As an ESL/EFL instructor, I can say that time not spent in the target language (English) is time forever lost. Time spent continuing in Spanish limits the child's knowledge and practice of English.'

But Alex in San Francisco, counters with this. "Aren't Spanish speaking Americans also taxpayers? They should have the same rights. One of them is to have their children taught in the language of their choice."

People having their say, and you can too. You can just log onto our blog,

Another challenge with our growing nation, the long commute to and from work. Next, a look at why many of our highways are so packed, when "300 Million: Melting Pot or Meltdown?" continues.


COOPER: Well, 77 percent of Americans driving to work alone. One reason for that high statistic is the high cost of living in big cities. That is forcing millions of us to live in the burbs and spend hours behind the wheel, and that commute is only getting longer.

Here is CNN's Tom Foreman.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On the banks of the Shenandoah River, Harpers Ferry has small-town charm, cheap housing, quaint shops.

But when Jill Schaffer moved here three years ago from Washington, D.C., to open a store, she found something else, too. A crushing commute back to the city.

JILL SCHAFFER, FORMER COMMUTER: Actually, best trip is an hour, hour and 15 minutes.

FOREMAN: And what about the worst?

SCHAFFER: Two hours, three hours, who knows. When I was in labor with my second baby, we were here and we got stuck in a major traffic jam.

FOREMAN (on camera): For how long?

SCHAFFER: It took us probably a good 2-1/2 hours to get to hospital.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Aside from doctor visits and shopping trips, the commute is not usually such an issue for Jill. But her husband, Rich, must make the drive every week to keep his job as a fireman in D.C. And he's not alone.

RICH SCHAFFER, COMMUTING FIREFIGHTER: I know a couple of guys that live in Pennsylvania and New York, Delaware. One even lives in North Carolina, that commutes to the firehouse. If the kids are up all night, it is painful. But, you have to sacrifice some, you know, for a better quality of life.

FOREMAN: American workers are sacrificing on average 100 hours a year to commuting. That's right, we are spending more time on the road than on vacation.

As jobs have consolidated around cities, competition for housing near those jobs has pushed prices up, up, up, and middle-class families out, out, out.

So in places like Harpers Ferry, the population is booming. But even the mayor works an hour away in Baltimore.

You don't have a lot of jobs here?

MAYOR JAMES ADDY, HARPERS FERRY, WEST VIRGINIA: No, no. Roughly 50 percent of the residents of the county leave the county everyday to go to work or other activities.

FOREMAN: 50 percent?

ADDY: 50 percent.

FOREMAN: Simple math is the trap. The Schaffers bought a building on a quarter-acre of land housing two businesses and their home for $360,000.

Drive toward Washington, and the price for such a property skyrockets with every mile into the millions.

(On camera): How much would all of this cost if you tried to buy it back in Washington?

J. SCHAFFER: Oh, gosh, this building? I couldn't even put a number on this. It would be completely unaffordable for us.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Cities can't really afford all this commuting either. The difficulty and cost for building or expanding roadways is growing right along with the population.

Public transit? It works in New York, but not so well elsewhere. In southern California, out of 48 million daily trips, two percent are on public transportation.

R. SCHAFFER: Looks good. Have a bite. FOREMAN: And there are insidious trade outs all along the line. The affordable house lets one parent stay home, true, but it can mean even less time for the other parent with family, friends, community groups.

Sheri Parks studies American culture for the University of Maryland.

SHERI PARKS, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: And they're getting their plasma TV sets in their family rooms and those sort of things, and as long as it's just limited to that, that they have it. But the American dream at large was something more important than that. It was not just about the things you have, it was about who you are and how you feel about your family.

FOREMAN: Your relationship to your community, all of that.

PARKS: Exactly. Exactly.

FOREMAN: Which you can't have if you're commuting three hours each way.

PARKS: Well, if you can't get home in time for the PTA meeting, you can't go.

FOREMAN: Rich works two 24-hour shifts each week, so at least he does not have to make the drive everyday. But he knows plenty of folks do.

R. SCHAFFER: It shouldn't be like that. Society shouldn't be going that way. You know, it shouldn't be like. It should be everyone should be able to live and afford to live where they work. It's just, it's gone crazy.

FOREMAN: And it's likely to go even crazier. With 300 million people driving hard for a better life, even the crickets are feeling crowded.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.


COOPER: Well, the crowding is only going to get worse as the milestones pile up faster than ever. It took the U.S. population 139 years to reach 100 million in 1915; 52 years later it hit 200 million in 1967. When it reaches 300 million tomorrow, it will have taken just 39 years. It's projected to hit 400 million, by the way, in 2043, just 37 years from now.

Thanks for watching this special edition of "360: 300 Million -- Melting Pot or Meltdown?" I'm Anderson Cooper.


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