Foreign Born in the United States Become More Dispersed

By Elizabeth Kelleher
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Immigrants in the United States are dispersing to areas beyond their traditional destinations.

According to new data released August 15 by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 36 million foreign-born people in the United States in 2005, making up 12.4 percent of the population.  More than one in three residents living in Los Angeles and New York were not U.S. citizens at birth.

But the fastest growth in the foreign-born population recently has been in Southeastern states. 

Of the 5 million new arrivals to the United States during the years 2000-2005, 58 percent settled in the six states that traditionally attract the largest numbers of immigrants – California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.  California alone attracted 21 percent.

But, according to Jeffrey Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, those shares are down.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, he said, “the big six” immigrant states attracted about 80 percent of new arrivals, and California, 35 percent.

In 2000-2005, the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nebraska and New Hampshire experienced growth in their foreign-born populations at rates more than double the rate in the United States as a whole (which is 16 percent).

According to Rakesh Kochhar, associate director for research at Pew, economic growth and the jobs that come with it are magnets for immigrants.  He said the flow of immigrants peaked in the late 1990s and then decreased.

“It may have been associated with recession or with 9/11,” he said, “but it was a temporary lull in 2003 and 2004.  There has been a pickup again.”  He attributed the shift of immigrant settlement in the Southeast to the availability of jobs in manufacturing, food processing and construction.

Kochhar released a study August 10 that compares employment levels and foreign-born populations in each of the 50 states to assess immigrants’ impact on employment of American-born workers.   In a news conference, he reported that he found no consistent pattern. 

The 2.9 million people from Latin American countries accounted for more than half of all arrivals to the United States in 2000-2005, according to the Census Bureau.  Of those, 1.8 million were from Mexico.  The next largest group (1.2 million) arrived from Asia – with India, China and the Philippines supplying the greatest numbers.

The United Nations reports that the United States hosts the largest share of the world’s immigrants – 20 percent.  For the 15 years from 1990 to 2005, the United States accounted for 75 percent of the world’s increase in immigrants, gaining 15 million people, according to the United Nations.  Germany and Spain followed, with gains of more than 4 million each.

A press release announcing the U.S. Census Bureau data with links to detailed tables is available on the agency’s Web site.  Information on Kochhar’s study is available on the Pew Hispanic Center Web site.

For additional information, see Population and Diversity.