Immigration Has Different Impacts
Many Americans are concerned about the social and economic impacts of immigration. Large numbers of immigrants enter the United States each year, and observers wonder how these persons affect the availability of jobs, the cost of government services, and whether their region or neighborhood is becoming overcrowded. Immigration debates at the national level are often about whether federal policies on admissions are adequate and appropriate. But when people talk about immigration at the state and local level they often are concerned about the impact of immigration on local economies and governments. Indeed, while national studies generally find that immigrants pay more in federal taxes than they use in federally funded services, the opposite can be true at the local level, where immigrants may be net users of services because they tend to have children in relatively costly K-12 schools.
All of this raises the question of whether particular states and locales are getting ?too many? or ?too few? immigrants. There are two ways to consider this. There are states with large numbers of immigrants, and a different set of states where immigration is a major factor in population growth. States with large numbers of immigrants are the so-called ?gateway? states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey. Most people strongly associate these states with immigration. States where immigration is a large portion of population growth are a different set and include a large swath of Midwestern states such as Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that are not normally considered immigration focal points. In these latter states, numbers of immigrants may be relatively small, yet they may have a significant impact due to low growth rates among the native population.
The issues associated with the arrival of large numbers of immigrants are well known: school districts may be unprepared, police and fire departments may need to learn to communicate with new populations, and bilingualism may become prominent. But the issues associated with the question of whether immigration forms a large or small portion of population growth are less discussed.
Consider the economic role played by immigrants as workers. In the factories of Chicago, which is losing native population, immigrants are more than one out of four workers, and without their presence those factories might need to move elsewhere to find needed workers. In Atlanta, Georgia, a city to which natives are streaming from places like New York and Philadelphia, the number of service sector jobs has mushroomed in recent years, and immigrants are an important part of the labor force that undergirds that expansion. In addition, states with low native population growth but rapid immigrant growth may expect greater cultural and linguistic changes than states where these social changes are diluted because so many natives are moving in.
Immigrants moving into a region may or may not cause native-born Americans to leave the area. In the end the question can be of the chicken-or-the-egg type: are natives leaving an area because it is undesirable, while immigrants are moving in because they have different expectations? Or do immigrants ?push? out the natives, who flee in the face of competition from the newcomers? Researchers debate whether this kind of push-and-pull mechanism explains why natives have been leaving many metropolitan areas where there is immigrant growth.
Immigration has different impacts in different states. Usually, however, this has been interpreted to mean that places with high immigrant numbers are heavily impacted by immigration, while areas with low numbers are not. However, immigrant numbers should be taken in the context of native population growth to better understand the impact of immigration. A state may have high immigration, but if it has high native population growth, some impacts of immigration are diminished. This fact may not change the attitudes and opinions of persons unhappy about immigration in booming areas of the south and west like North Carolina, Georgia, and Nevada. But the truth is that their immigrant numbers do not translate into the same level of impact as similar numbers in Michigan, Kansas, or New Jersey. In these latter states, the foreign born are proving to be more valuable than ever.
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