Feb 4, 2022 - News

Philly's Black immigrant population boomed over last decade

Percentage growth of Black immigrant population, by state
Reproduced from Pew Research

The U.S. population of Black immigrants is climbing and diversifying — and a substantial portion live in right here in Pennsylvania.

The big picture: One in 10 Black people living in the U.S. are immigrants, a new report from the Pew Research Center found.

  • The country's total Black population grew by 20 million between 1980 and 2019, with the Black foreign-born population accounting for 19% of that growth.

Zoom in: Pennsylvania's Black immigrant population jumped 156%, and Philly's increased 121% between 2000 and 2019, per Pew data.

  • Pew found that the Philadelphia metro is home to about 120,000 Black immigrants.

Between the lines: There has been a sizable African community in Philly since the 1970s. Many came for educational and economic opportunities, and then immigration ramped up in the 1990s into the 2000s.

  • Many are refugees. The Liberian population, in particular, saw an uptick — becoming the largest nationality group among African immigrants by 2010. A lot of the Liberian population already had family ties here from decades before.
  • Other Black migrants in the region typically come from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana, as well as Caribbean countries, such as Haiti and Jamaica.

The impact: After decades of immigration, parts of the city — especially West and Southwest Philadelphia — have become large and strong Black immigrant communities. And they're expected to keep growing.

  • "We are no longer transient. We are a permanent part of the community," Voffee Jabateh, CEO of the Philly-based African Cultural Alliance of North America and a Liberian immigrant, told Axios.

HIAS Pennsylvania and other local agencies that focus on at-risk immigrants and refugees have resettled immigrants from West African countries to West Philadelphia over the last decade.

  • The groups targeted West Philly because of lower housing costs and access to language programs.
  • "[Philadelphia] is a city that is welcoming to Black and brown immigrants, and we as a city have worked very hard to create that image, and I think it's been successful," said HIAS Pennsylvania's executive director Cathryn Miller-Wilson,

What to watch: The Black immigrant population in the U.S. will likely double and account for roughly one-third of America's Black population growth through 2060, Pew estimates.

  • Jabateh noted that Philadelphia's already sizable immigrant population will entice others to come.
  • "This boom will only get bigger," Jabateh said.

Of note: Pew uses U.S. Black immigrant population to refer to all people who self-identify as Black and were born outside of the U.S. to non-U.S. citizen parents.

  • This includes people who identify as single-race Black, multiracial Black and Black Hispanic people.
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