Immigration and Political Prosperity

Editors’ Note: Excerpted from The New York Times, January 10, 2020.


Often lost in discussions of immigration is the simple, inescapable fact that the United States was founded as a nation of immigrants.  Only Native Americans have a claim to being indigenous. The contemporary debate over immigration has economic and moral components and, now, elements of future prosperity for some states.

The dispute over citizenship questions in the forthcoming census reflected concerns in those quarters.

Many parts of America would be shrinking if not for the arrival of residents from other countries.  State-by-state population estimates recently released by the Census Bureau make this clear. Four states lost population in the last decade, but nine others would have also shrunk if not for the addition of foreign-born residents.

A decade ago, the population picture was more robust. No state showed an overall population decline, and only seven states depended on immigrants for population growth.The figures, which are the last major estimates the bureau will release before the 2020 census, separate population change into three major components: natural change, as in births vs. deaths; domestic migration, the movement of Americans between states; and the arrival of immigrants.

The big picture is of a country growing more slowly than it ever has.

This is the lowest annual growth rate since 1918, and caps off a decade that should show the slowest 10-year population growth since the first census was taken in 1790.

“This is the lowest annual growth rate since 1918, and caps off a decade that should show the slowest 10-year population growth since the first census was taken in 1790,” the demographer William Frey wrote for the Brookings Institution.

Every state except North Dakota (which had a fracking boom that peaked in 2012) showed a lower ratio of births to deaths from 2010 through 2019, compared with the prior decade. (Washington, D.C., which is considered a state in demographic counts, also showed an increase.)

But while the falling birthrate affected most states’ growth to some extent, the immigration slowdown hit some states harder than others, particularly states that already tend to lose population from migration to other states.

VoxFairfax note: It seems not too long ago that states were screaming, Stop the Immigrants. But states have arguably gotten used to immigrants’ contributions to the workforce. With lesser numbers of immigrants, might states face new problems? 

In Michigan, for example, where 190,000 immigrants arrived, the population over all grew by 100,000, meaning the state would have shrunk without immigration. New Jersey had a net gain of 90,000 residents, bolstered by the addition of nearly 300,000 residents from overseas.

The estimates show that the United States took in more than a million immigrants in both 2015 and 2016, but that the numbers have fallen in the three years since President Trump took office, dipping below 600,000 in 2019.

The four states estimated to have lost population this past decade were West Virginia, Illinois, Connecticut and Vermont.

Population loss directly affects political representation…. [It] can also harm local economies.

Population loss directly affects political representation. Seats in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College are tied to the decennial census. If the 2019 estimates are extrapolated one more year, the figures suggest that 10 states will lose a House seat. Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon would each get one new seat, while Florida (2) and Texas (3) would divide the remaining five seats.

Population losses can also harm local economies. Companies may relocate or look elsewhere to expand, making it harder for local governments to raise taxes to pay for services like education, which in turn prompts more people to move away.  Over all, the estimates show that the United States grew by 6.3 percent in the 2010s — to a total of 328 million — after an increase of 9.1 percent between 2000 and 2009.

Virginia’s Governor Northam issued a statement inviting the federal government to send immigrants to the Commonwealth following a September 2019 executive order requiring states and localities to agree to accept refugees.  The cumulative economic impact upon Virginia was reported by VoxFairfax previously (“Virginia Immigrants in the Economy: Pillars of Prosperous Communities”; 07/07/19; Texas, as noted, stands to gain Congressional seats and has declined to accept more refugees.

The data also showed a pickup in domestic migration as the decade proceeded, but it never reached the same rate as before the Great Recession. “The overall migration has been going down, but the direction of where they move is coming back to where they were,” Mr. Frey said of the trend of population moving from Northern and Midwestern states to the South and West.

For details of what has transpired in several specific states (California, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Washington, and Illinois), see full article at


Categories: Issues, Local, National

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