Monday, May 28, 2012

Rust Belt Immigration

Immigrants are boosting the fortunes of Pittsburgh. An influx of foreign born will save Detroit. All this and more if only we can be welcoming:

I think virtually every city that’s lately experienced a boost in immigration has experienced the potential for a renaissance that they may not recognize because immigrants tend to be far more entrepreneurial than other residents, in terms of everything from starting new restaurants and stores to running other businesses. Particularly when you’re looking at an infusion of immigrants into a place where there’s otherwise been a population exodus – the Rust Belt area, for example — and notably in places that have also been regions of backlash against immigration, such as Hazleton, Pennsylvania. These areas have failed to recognize the potential renaissance in their communities [due to] immigrants.

Despite the backlash against immigration, entrepreneurs are migrating to Hazleton. If we make our city cooler, more migrants will come. If we are more tolerant, then people from all over the world will repopulate our demographically challenged community. The curse of the Underpants Gnomes continues to haunt us. Where's the evidence that this stuff works?

Latinos are moving to Rust Belt cities regardless of policy and feel-good initiatives. Who is mayor doesn't matter. Schenectady, NY and Reading, PA are experiencing a population boom. That wave is moving westward, already evident in Pittsburgh. Hazleton's population grew between 2000 and 2010 by 8.6%. The jump in the Hispanic population was remarkable and dramatic, as it was for the entire state:

Overall, Pennsylvania grew by 3.4% to 12,702,379, driven by large gains in the Hispanic population and steady growth of the Asian population, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. Hispanics account for 77% of the state's growth.

Those increases and a 12.5% gain in African Americans offset a 0.7% drop in non-Hispanic whites.

The decline in non-Hispanic white people is caused primarily by two things: a birth rate about half that of Hispanics and outmigration, says Gordon DeJong, professor of sociology and demography at Penn State University.

Emphasis added. Did the welcome center promote fertility? Were there incentives to have more babies? Concerning the boost in numbers, there is a lot left to the imagination.

Over the last few months, I've been researching immigrant attraction strategies across the entire United States. I focused on Latino migration and studied the flows in an attempt to unearth evidence that these policies were working. There are success stories. I also learned that talking about greater tolerance and cutting the ribbon on a new welcome center are more palatable to residents than actually increasing immigration. I'm not seeing a connection between community development and greater migration (international or domestic). However, we could get a lot more out the existing inmigration. I think if we did that, recognized the potential renaissance, that would attract more people.

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