Sep 11, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Immigrants are driving growth in U.S. cities

Kim Hart, author of Cities
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Adapted from an Economic Innovation Group chart; Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Immigration is a significant driver of population growth in the country's most successful cities, according to an analysis released today by the Economic Innovation Group.

Why it matters: "Without the contribution of immigrants, metro areas like Miami, San Jose, and New York would have lost population from 2017 to 2018 at a rate double that of metro areas such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland and triple that of metro areas such as Milwaukee and St. Louis," per EIG's report.

If international migration was more evenly distributed throughout the country, declining areas such as Detroit and Buffalo would be able to offset domestic population losses.

  • With slightly more immigration, Cleveland's population growth last year would have been on par with Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
  • EIG has proposed "heartland visas" to create more avenues for immigrants to settle in areas that are otherwise shrinking.

Minorities and immigrants alike are already moving away from the typical "melting pot" metro areas and into smaller (often struggling) cities to take advantage of lower costs of living and open jobs.

  • This is particularly true of Hispanic citizens and immigrants — who are taking the place of declining white populations. Scranton, Pennsylvania, for example, saw a particularly high growth rate among Hispanics in 2018, per Brookings' Frey.
  • American schools systems have been the first to experience the demographic change: White students are now the minority in U.S. public schools.

What it means for cities: Increasing diversity means city leaders will have to prioritize "deep and meaningful community engagement as part of the public policy process," said Christina Stacy, senior research associate at the Urban Institute.

  • "You want the city council to actually look like the people you're representing," she said. "The most inclusive cities don't just deal with diversity and immigration, they celebrate it."

Go deeper: Immigrants are moving to smaller cities

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