Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Population And Immigration

Ohio is dying. At least, that's the dominant narrative. The press and politicians recycling outdated mesofacts:

In addition, the Census data show that Ohio continued to lose residents as people move elsewhere in the nation. While the state gained more than 33,000 people from international migration during the last two years, the data show, it lost 84,528 people who moved to other states.

The total migration loss of more than 51,000 people was counteracted by the state having about 60,000 more births than deaths from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011.

“Without question,” Nichols said, “until Ohio has a sustained period of economic growth and job creation, this will remain a concern.”

Ohio’s population growth is so weak that it is likely inevitable that the state will soon see population loss for the first time in its history, said Mark Salling, research associate with the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

“If the economy were to pick up, especially in Ohio, we might avert this eventual loss of population,” Salling said. “But without being able to foresee any major changes in the economy, the loss has got to happen soon. But then again, five years ago I was saying it would happen any year, and it still hasn’t happened.”

Population growth, not economic growth, is the policy goal. If we looked at domestic migration (ignoring immigration and natural increase), then we see a surprising group of losers. The only thing that seems to matter is net migration. People vote with their feet. The winners are where the population is increasing, regardless of the reason behind the boom. Population up, good. Population down, bad.

I use Reading, PA to point out the absurdity of this perspective. Much of the eastern part of the state is growing thanks to an influx of Hispanics. This supposed change of fortune has given rise to the idea that immigrants can save the Rust Belt. I investigated the hype for Global Cleveland, an organization dedicated to bolstering Northeast Ohio's population. What I found was not immigration, but domestic migration. Hispanics are fleeing the high rents and low quality of life in New York for the opportunity landscape of Rust Belt cities. The Creative Class economy is dying, not Ohio. Domestic migration and natural increase are boosting the numbers, not immigration.

I'll return later in this post to the Reading case. I've emphasized "natural increase" in view of demographic convergence evidence:

Latinos suffered larger percentage declines in household wealth than white, black or Asian households from 2005 to 2009, and, according to the Pew report, their rates of poverty and unemployment also grew more sharply after the recession began.

Prolonged recessions do produce dips in the birthrate, but a drop as large as Latinos have experienced is atypical, said William H. Frey, a sociologist and demographer at the Brookings Institution. “It is surprising,” Mr. Frey said. “When you hear about a decrease in the birthrate, you don’t expect Latinos to be at the forefront of the trend.”

D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at the Pew Research Center and an author of the report, said that in past recessions, when overall fertility dipped, “it bounced back over time when the economy got better.”

“If history repeats itself, that will happen again,” she said.

But to Mr. Frey, the decrease has signaled much about the aspirations of young Latinos to become full and permanent members of the upwardly mobile middle class, despite the challenges posed by the struggling economy.

Regions attracting Hispanics can no longer bank on a demographic dividend. The birth rates for Hispanics are more in line with the rest of the US population. Going forward, the number boost will be much more muted. Frey's analysis dovetails well with my own research. Hispanics are migrating for upward mobility opportunities, which is what I recommended Global Cleveland extend to potential migrants in areas such as the Lehigh Valley. It's a residual flow that is short on population growth but long on economic development.

Circling back to Reading, Hispanic migrants are being pushed there. Lacking is an economic pull. Poverty rates have skyrocketed in Reading along with the population growth. Opportunities are limited. Economic activity in population moribund Pittsburgh beckons. More people is not, in and of itself, a good thing. People develop, not places.

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