Up Front

Web Chat: The State of Metropolitan America

Audrey Singer

Audrey Singer took your questions on the new report by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, The State of Metropolitan America in a live web chat on May 19. Singer examined the policy implications of the report, particularly on the emerging immigration debate. POLITICO Assistant Editor Seung Min Kim moderated the discussion.

The transcript of this chat follows.

12:32 Seung Min Kim: Good afternoon everyone. Brookings’s Audrey Singer is here to talk about the new report “The State of Metropolitan America,” which examines the changing demographics across America, and the report’s implications on the emerging immigration debate. Welcome Audrey.

12:33 Audrey Singer: Hello and thank you for participating today. For those who would like to see more, the State of Metropolitan America report, interactive map and data, and many other links are available on our website:


12:33 [Comment From Shawn: ] What is the State of Metropolitan America? Where did your data come from?

12:34 Audrey Singer: We were interested in the underlying demographic forces that are shaping America today, and we are especially interested in metropolitan areas, where trends are generally moving faster than the country as a whole.

12:36 Audrey Singer: We focused the report on nine areas: population and migration, race and ethnicity, immigration, age, households and families, educational attainment, work, income and poverty, and commuting in the 100 largest metropolitan areas.

12:36 Audrey Singer: We looked at differences across metropolitan areas, but also within metro areas, in the cities and suburbs that make up metro areas.

12:38 Audrey Singer: We used data from the Census Bureau, primarily from decennial census, especially 2000, but we also used the American Community Survey (ACS) which is a detailed survey of who Americans are, their social and economic characteristics and how they live.

12:39 Audrey Singer: We focused on this decade–from 2000 to 2008. In a way, this report represents a preview of what we expect to see when the 2010 Census results are released. But these data and this analysis goes way beyond what we will get from Census 2010, which as many people know only asks 10 basic questions.

12:40 [Comment From Laurie: ] What implications does the new immigration law in Arizona have on the rest of the country?

12:42 Audrey Singer: What happened in Arizona is a result of a few big trends. First, as Governor Jan Brewer and others have pointed out, Congress has failed to reform the nation’s immigration laws and thus there was mounting pressure for her and other lawmakers (not just in AZ) to “do something” about illegal immigration.

12:43 Audrey Singer: Second, Arizona saw very fast population growth, not just in terms of immigration, but many people from around the United States moved there during the boom that started in the late 1990s.

12:46 Audrey Singer: Third, there’s a proliferation of laws and practices that states and localities are proposing and passing that try to address local immigration issues. These issues range from the restrictive to the inclusive. The point is that local areas are dealing with the fiscal, social, and political realities of immigration and of a growing population in some areas without legal status.

12:46 Audrey Singer: So what does that mean for the rest of the country?


It seems like the AZ law has opened up the discussion on immigration in a new and urgent way.

12:47 Audrey Singer: Many have opposed the new law, including the Obama administration, rights advocates, and even local politicians and law enforcement officials in Arizona.

12:49 Audrey Singer: Others support it and say if the feds are unable to do the job they are supposed to do, its okay for states to take up the job.

And it appears that there is fairly widespread support among the public. However, the public tends to be very mixed on this issue more generally. Most Americans support new national laws that would give legal status to the 11 million living in this country without it.

12:50 [Comment From Elba: ] Please list the top 5 trends and share an insight about each.

12:52 Audrey Singer: In State of Metropolitan America we focused on 5 new realities for the nation and for metro areas.

We are growing relatively fast, especially compared with our peers in Europe. As a nation in this decade we grew by 25 million or 8.8 percent. In metro areas there was faster growth at 10.5 percent or a growth of 19 million.

12:53 Audrey Singer: Although this has been happening over a long period of time, we are getting even more diverse, and again, metros are at the forefront of this change.

Most of the population growth we saw in this decade was growth of the nonwhite pop and 17 metros are already “majority minority.”

12:55 Audrey Singer: The baby boomers are pushing the aging of this country in a way that we may not be prepared for–they will start turning 65 next year, and we will see a huge bulge of seniors over the next several decades, challenging our healthcare systems, our housing and transportation preferences, and our public coffers. Again, metro areas are going to bear the brunt, as most boomers are suburbanites.

12:56 Audrey Singer: We are getting more educated as a country, but metros, with their more diverse populations have more minorities with less education, namely the black and Latino populations.

12:58 Audrey Singer: And the fifth trend we focused on was income and poverty. We saw low-wage workers suffer in this decade while high wage workers saw their wages go up. Again, metro areas showed more polarizing trends than the nation as a whole.

12:59 [Comment From Natasha: ] Can you provide insight into Hispanic population migration, current & future trends as well as reasons why?

1:01 Audrey Singer: The 1990s was the decade where we saw more immigrants come to this country than any other on record. This decade we saw a slowing from the 1990s but still a very large number came. Immigrants, particularly those from mexico and other parts of Latin America settled in many new places, particularly in Southeastern metro areas, and in many suburban areas and rural areas across the country that had not experienced much immigration historically.

1:02 Audrey Singer: The reasons for this shift had to do with jobs and where the growth was in this country. Much of it was driven by fast growing metros, think Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth where the construction industry drew workers in great numbers.

1:04 Audrey Singer: now as we see some fast growing places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, other areas suffering through a housing collapse and high unemployment, the question is will those immigrants and their families stay or move elsewhere.

1:05 Audrey Singer: I think the answer to what the future looks like has to do of course with the conditions on the ground, both economically as well as the political climate. But when the economy picks up–which will happen at different rates across metros–immigrants will likely be moving to those places. they are a very flexible part of our work force.

1:06 [Comment From Crystal: ] What types of jobs will see future growth, based on the aging population, increasing diversity, and other trends? Will there be a mismatch of demand for jobs and the workforce we have (for example, will we need nurses but have too few educated people to fill those roles)?

1:08 Audrey Singer: One burgeoning sector of our economy already is healthcare and this will only increase as the population gets older at a quicker pace. This is one area where we may see a re-skilling of the population, especially as we innovate and develop new services and technologies.

1:10 Audrey Singer: One of the major points we make in the report is how important it is that we prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s workforce. We not only need to have a skilled workforce for our domestic jobs, but to stay competitive in a globalized labor market.

1:13 Audrey Singer: So making sure the our educational system–including K-12 and higher ed–is keeping up with changing demographic trends is important.

Let me highlight this by pointing out Los Angeles’ trends–60 percent of children there have at least one immigrant parent. Now not all of these kids are disadvantaged, but LA needs to make sure those who are in households with parents who are not English speakers and themselves have lower skills are keeping up so that they will be ready to work in the near future.

1:14 [Comment From Leo: ] You mentioned the housing collapse and high unemployment. Does the data suggest Americans, particularly immigrants shift to other employment accordingly? Or is it too early to tell?

1:16 Audrey Singer: Our analysis does not specifically address that issue for this decade, but research does show that immigrants fill in occupational niches, and in some cases create occupational niches. And this happens at both the high and low skill ends.

1:17 Audrey Singer: However, we have metro areas that are overbuilt, so metros are coming to terms with how to diversify their markets going forward. Not to overgeneralize: immigrants tend to follow opportunities.

1:18 [Comment From Leslie: ] Can you talk a little about urban poor vs. suburban poor? Are these groups demographically similar?

1:21 Audrey Singer: We saw a shift in where the poor lived in this decade. Suburbs saw greater growth in poverty than cities. So generally cities and suburbs are looking more similar to each other in this regard. Areas can “grow” or “shrink” their poverty population in several ways–people moving in, people moving out, people who stay get poorer or richer…we are doing a lot of work on this issue in the Metro program, so stay tuned to see more in the near future.

1:22 [Comment From Bruce Summers: ] What are the implications for nonprofits as we vision go-forward strategies now through 2020?

1:25 Audrey Singer: Because of the recession, now nonprofits are likely dealing with state and local budget crises as well as decreasing flows from private sources, just when they need it most. As they rethink their programs and services, i’m sure many are faced with tough choices, especially those that serve poor populations. The implications are for not only how they make it through tough times, but what they will be prepared to do once the money starts flowing again.

1:25 [Comment From Michael: ] One argument for restricting immigration says that immigrants ‘take’ jobs from low-skills workers. Is this measurable? What occupational niches do immigrants fill, and what niches do they create? Where are they competing with natural-born citizens, and where are they filling otherwise un-fillable positions?

1:27 Audrey Singer: The solid research that has been done on this issue points to the fact that lower-skilled immigrants compete with other low-skilled workers, both native-born and foreign-born. So in some sectors, construction and some services for example, there is competition that can be geographically concentrated (as well as occupationally concentrated).

1:28 Audrey Singer: What is harder to know is who would be working in these jobs otherwise, there are few studies that can provide good evidence. Some suggest wage is a factor, so that if you raised wages, US-born workers would be willing to work in poultry processing, drywalling, etc.

1:30 [Comment From Chco: ] So what should Congress do?

1:32 Audrey Singer: Congress needs to take control of the situation by putting aside the politics and emotions of the issue (ha!) and working on a bipartisan solution that addresses enforcement issues, both border and worksite, future flows of immigrants (including temporary and permanent workers), a fair legalization program that puts those legalizing at the end of the queue, and also provides some funds for states and localities to better integrate immigrants civically and socially, economically and politically.

1:33 Seung Min Kim: Thanks so much to Audrey and readers for a great discussion. Make sure to join us next week for another chat!