Dec 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Share of U.S. immigrant population drops for first time in 10 years

Percentage of foreign-born population in the U.S.
Data: William H. Frey analysis of historical censuses; American Community Survey (ACS); Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios; Note: Estimates for 2009-2010 overestimates foreign-born increase due to weighting differences between the 2009 and 2010 ACS. The new 2011 estimates provide accurate differences between 2010-2015.

The population of foreign-born citizens and residents in the United States has plummeted for the first time in over a decade, according to analysis of new experimental U.S. Census Bureau data.

Why it matters: While the decline coincides with the spread of COVID-19, a country with an aging population like that found in the United States needs strong levels of immigration to support economic growth. More immediately, immigrants could help fill the millions of job openings in the U.S.

  • The new data from the American Community Survey (ACS) also revealed the smallest decade gain in the foreign-born population since the 1960s, at 3.6 million. In comparison, the immigrant population grew by 8.8 million during the 2000s.
  • The data "strongly suggest a [sizable] downturn in the U.S. foreign-born population, no doubt related to a downturn in immigration in the last year" due to coronavirus restrictions, Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told Axios.

Of note: The pandemic complicated efforts to collect census data, and the 2020 ACS results did not meet the bureau's data standards for previous years.

  • Both factors explain why they are labeled "experimental."

Former President Trump's effort to exclude undocumented populations from reapportionment numbers, though ultimately failing, may have led some immigrant populations to be wary of responding to overall U.S. Census Bureau outreach.

  • This may have at least partially contributed to the lower foreign-born population numbers, Frey said.
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