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Exclusive: Immigrants are moving to smaller cities

Data: New American Economy; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios 

As young Americans stream to coastal cities, immigrants are seizing opportunities in the midwest and south where mid-sized cities are struggling to maintain a younger, working-age population.

Why it matters: From 2014-2017, immigrants contributed nearly 33% of the total population growth in the top 100 U.S. metro areas — and they're settling in smaller cities that aren't typically considered immigration hubs, according to new research from New American Economy.

"Immigrants — very similar to other Americans — are looking for less crowded, more affordable cities that have dynamic job markets," said Andrew Lim, research director at the bipartisan research and advocacy organization.

Details: Foreign-born migration helped reverse population decline in several metros, such as Detroit, Memphis, Dayton and St. Louis.

  • In 2017, immigrants were responsible for 98% of the population growth in metro Cincinnati, 88% of the growth in metro Birmingham, and 87% of growth in metro Miami.
  • Four of the top 10 cities seeing the most population growth from immigrants are in Florida — a state seeing a disproportionate growth of aging residents.

What's happening: Many of the top destinations are grappling with a demographic double whammy: a growing aging population on one hand, and a dwindling young population on the other.

  • Immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to be of working age — between 25 and 64 — than the native-born population. Meanwhile, 98 of the top 100 metros saw an increase in population above the age of 65 between 2014 and 2017.
  • Healthcare is a popular job area as demands grow in caring for aging residents. In El Paso, for example, immigrants made up a third of healthcare workers in 2017. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, that number was 20%.

The big picture: Immigration is a national flashpoint right now, with controversies around poor conditions in detention centers along the Mexico border and political fights over whether the 2020 Census will include a citizenship question.

The research highlights the economic upsides of immigration.

  • Immigrant entrepreneurs grew by 7.7% in the top 100 metro areas between 2014 and 2017. The number more than doubled in Baton Rouge, and grew by more than 60% in Tulsa.
  • Immigrant homeownership increased by 9.5%, with Nashville, Oklahoma City and Charlotte seeing the fastest growth.
  • Despite growth in smaller cities, the more traditional metros (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco) still saw the highest levels of spending power and taxes paid by immigrants.

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