The State of Metropolitan America


High levels of immigration during the 2000s increased the nation’s foreign-born population to 38 million as of 2008, equivalent to about one in eight Americans. This subject area focuses on these foreign-born individuals, both citizens and non-citizens: their growth, where they live, their characteristics, and the growing demographic influence of their foreign- and native-born children. Findings on immigration include:

  • About one in eight Americans in 2008 was an immigrant. This represented a dramatic rise from 1970, when fewer than one in 20 Americans was foreign-born, and reflects a tectonic shift in sources of U.S. immigration away from Europe and toward Latin American and Asia in the late 20th century.

  • Metropolitan areas in the Southeast gained immigrants at a faster rate than most other regions during the 2000s. Many metro areas in the Great Plains, Texas, inland California and the Mountain West also had above average growth. Immigrant growth across all metropolitan areas was strong but down from its breakneck pace in the 1990s, and appeared to subside further with the onset of the recession in 2008.

  • High and low-skilled immigrants distribute unevenly across U.S. metro areas. Immigrants with the lowest levels of English language ability and educational attainment cluster in Texas, inland California, and Sunbelt markets that experienced fast growth during the decade’s housing boom. More highly educated immigrants populate former gateways like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and high-tech economies like the San Francisco Bay Area. Major metro areas in the Southeast, as well as established gateways like Chicago and New York, draw a mix of immigrants by skill level.

  • The “second generation” represents a large share of the child population in several established metropolitan gateways. In the Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco metro areas, more than half of children have at least one foreign-born parent, or are themselves foreign-born. The New York area has 1.8 million such children, 44 percent of all children metro-wide.

  • More than half of the foreign-born live in large metropolitan suburbs, up from 44 percent in 1980. In metropolitan areas with a more recent immigration history, such as Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., immigrants account for a similar or higher share of suburban than city population. More than one in three immigrants in large metro areas live in the high-density suburbs that surround cities, and nearly one in five lives in mature, mid-20th century suburbs.

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