NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 4, 2008

When people think of recent American immigrants -- particularly Latinos -- it tends to be in terms of a handful of states (California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida) and a handful of gateway cities (New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and Chicago). But this is a habit that needs to be broken, says the Economist.

One of the most striking demographic trends of the past couple of decades has been the dispersal of America's immigrant population:

  • Immigrants are settling in small towns as well as big cities, in suburbs as well as inner-city ghettos, in rural areas as well as metropolitan ones, in the great American interior as well as on the coasts.
  • The proportion of Mexican-born people living in states other than the four border states plus Illinois increased from 10 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 2000.

This is producing some of the most dramatic demographic changes in recent American history:

  • The once lily-white Midwest and the once black-and-white South are becoming prime places for immigrants (eight of the ten states with the biggest growth in the foreign-born Mexican population are in the South, for instance).
  • There are thriving Latino enclaves in such unlikely places as Dalton, Georgia; Garden City, Kansas; Storm Lake, Iowa; and Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, the Hispanic population of Franklin County, Alabama, has grown by 2,193 percent and Gordon County, Georgia, by 1,534 percent.

This revolution can be partly explained by sheer numbers. The old gateway cities are becoming saturated.  Another factor is the wholesale restructuring of chunks of the American economy.  Many companies have responded to international competition by shifting their operations from old industrial cities, with their heavily unionized workforces and restrictive practices, to rural areas and small towns.  This has not only led to the Latinization of certain industry, but also to the Latinization of heartland communities.

Source: Editorial, "The newest frontier," Economist, February 21, 2008.

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