Wall Street Journal
By Neil Shah
January 23, 2014
Immigration to the U.S. faltered in 2013 after three years of increasing growth, a sign of the long shadow cast by the nation’s disappointing economic rebound.
Just over 843,000 people came to the U.S. from overseas between July 2012 and July 2013, after accounting for people leaving, fewer than the 866,000 who came the prior year, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday. On average, about 884,000 foreigners have migrated to the U.S. a year, on net, since 2001.
The data show that six years after the onset of the Great Recession, America’s reputation as a land of opportunity remains dented by a recovery that has been painfully slow by historical standards ― especially for those with lower incomes and less education.
While many economists expect the U.S. economy to finally start picking up this year, the nation’s main demographic trends ― immigration, fertility and migration ― remain in the doldrums.
“Immigration took a dip last year just when it seemed like it was going to rise to more healthy levels,” said demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., who analyzed the Census data. “It seems like the recession and its aftermath are still holding back our national population growth.”
After hitting 1.2 million in 2000-2001, net immigration to the U.S. hung around the 900,000s level in the early to mid-2000s. It then sunk to a recent low of about 725,000 people in 2008-2009 as the recession ― and bleak jobs picture ― made the U.S. a less attractive destination to foreigners. As the economy exited recession in mid-2009 immigration started edging up again ― but that progress has now stalled.
Immigration can bring skilled labor to struggling parts of the U.S. and even reverse population declines at a time when Americans are having fewer children. In Michigan, for example, Gov. Rick Snyder is seeking to obtain special federal immigration visas to attract more foreign professionals to Detroit, which lost 25% of its population between 2000 and 2010.
To be sure, the U.S. remains a beacon for people around the world. A report by Pew Research Center in December showed the U.S. actually increased its share of the world’s migrants between 1990 and 2013 and remains the largest destination country by far. One in five, or 46 million, of the world’s migrants now live in the U.S.
Some U.S. states registered relatively big gains in international migrants as a share of overall population growth, including Alabama, Georgia, Maryland and Michigan. Alabama’s population grew about 16,000 between July 2012 and July 2013, on net, with over 5,000 of the increase coming from net international migration, Census data show.
Still, the disappointing immigration data fly in the face of recent economic readings suggesting the U.S. picked up in 2013, especially in the year’s second half.
It’s not just immigration caught in the mud of America’s weak (at least until now) recovery. While demographic data tend to lag behind other economic readings, recently-released levels of fertility and domestic migration ― which economists see as useful gauges of an economy’s health ― have stabilized since the recession but have yet to improve meaningfully.
Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, says Census’s latest data show Americans continued to move to Florida, Arizona and Nevada ― typical destinations, especially for older retirees, who’ve been doing much of the moving lately ― but the volume of these moves was weaker than in the previous year. By the same token, the numbers of people leaving New York and Massachusetts ― which Americans have tended to leave in recent years ― are lower than the previous year.
Low immigration is one reason the nation’s overall population grew only 0.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, which is well below the average annual increase of about 1.8% seen in the 1950s.
Immigration accounted for about 40% of the nation’s increase of 2.26 million people. The remaining 60% came from “natural increase,” or U.S. births outpacing the number of deaths.
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