The Impact of Immigration
In the first post in this series, I attempted to counter the claim that the population shift from the “Rust Belt” to the “Sun Belt” has reflected a preference for living in “right-to-work” rather than in “pro-labor” states. I can both summarize that argument and extend it by pointing out that out of the four basic geographic and demographic regions of the United States—the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, and the West—the South and the West have both the fastest rising populations that are 65 and older and the youngest overall populations.
Specifically, over the last ten years the 65-and-older population has increased 19.7% in the South and 23.5% in the West, while it has increased just 5.9% in the Northeast and 9.2% in the Midwest. To put these percentages in context, the 65-and-older population has increased from 7.7% of the total population in 2000 to 13% of the total population in 2010.
So if the number of retirees relocating to the Sun Belt accounts for a large percentage of that region’s population growth, what accounts for the rest of it? Quite simply, the major other factor has been immigration. Among the states that had 500,000 or more foreign-born residents in 2010, seven out of the seventeen were in the Sun Belt, and all of those except for California were right-to-work states:
California [Rank: 1] 10,195,057
Texas [Rank: 3] 4,201,675
Florida [Rank: 4] 3,702,627
Georgia [Rank: 8] 942,921
Arizona [Rank: 11] 871,667
North Carolina [Rank: 14] 708,350
Nevada [Rank: 16] 522,463
These states also rank high when the percentage of foreign-born residents is measured:
California [Rank: 1] 27%
Texas [Rank: 7] 16.4%
Florida [Rank: 4] 19.4%
Georgia [Rank:20] 9.6%
Arizona [Rank: 13] 13.4%
North Carolina [Rank: 23] 7.3%
Nevada [Rank: 5] 19.2%
It makes since that the Sun Belt states would attract the highest number of immigrants because they are located closest to the major sources of immigrants—Central and South America and the Caribbean region. And since immigrants tend to be younger than the general population, the influx of immigrants into the most populous Southern and Western states goes a long way toward explaining the overall relative youthfulness of the populations of the South and the West.
Of course, these immigrants are not coming to the “Sun Belt” for the sun; their nations of origin are at least as sunny and as balmy as the “Sun Belt” states. Instead, they are coming to the U.S. for jobs, and most job opportunities are concentrated in urban areas, both in the “Sun Belt” and elsewhere. This reality explains why a number of “Rust Belt” states continue to attract large numbers of immigrants: New York (the New York metropolitan area), New Jersey (the New York and Philadelphia metro areas), Illinois (the Chicago metro area), Massachusetts (the Boston metro area), and Maryland (the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metro areas).
Likewise, all of the “Sun Belt” states that have large foreign-born populations include rapidly growing urban areas. Of the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the United States, four are in Texas, four are in Florida, one is in Georgia, one is in Arizona, two are in North Carolina, and one is in Nevada: that is, 13 of the most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S. are in these seven states. The trend is even more marked if one considers the populations of cities proper, rather than metropolitan areas. Of the 50 most populous cities in the U.S., seven are in Texas, two are in Florida, one is in Georgia, three are in Arizona, two are in North Carolina, and one is in Nevada: that is, 16 of the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. are now in those seven states. In many of these states, especially in the West, suburbs have simply been absorbed into the cities because much of the population growth has been concentrated into the last three to four decades, too quickly for extensive suburbs to have been established as distinct political units.
The immigrants to these cities have found employment either in the service sector or in low-end manufacturing jobs, but I will save discussions of manufacturing and manufacturing employment for later posts in the series.
To close this post, I would like to highlight an irony in immigration’s accounting for much of the population growth in the “Sun Belt” states. The same politicians and political commentators who have been most outspoken about the “right to work” attractions of most of the “Sun Belt” states have also been the most outspokenly anti-immigrant. It is not surprising, then, than the urban areas in which those immigrants have become most concentrated have become the most “Blue” areas of those predominantly “Red” states. Indeed, the growth in the Hispanic and African-American populations in those cities, along with their increasing political engagement, has led to Nevada’s becoming an increasingly “Blue” state, Florida’s being clearly a “Purple” state, and North Carolina’s becoming an increasingly “Purple” state—as well as predictions that Arizona may become “Purple” by the next presidential election cycle and that Texas and Georgia may become “Purple” within the next two election cycles.
To further understand why, consider the following statistics. In 2010, the population of Arizona was 6,392,017. Phoenix was the 6th largest city in the U.S., with a population of 1,445,632, and the Phoenix metropolitan area had a population of 4,192,877. So 65.5% of Arizona’s population was concentrated in the Phoenix metropolitan area. In addition, Tucson was the 33 largest city in the U.S., with a population of 520,116, and the Tucson metropolitan area had a population 980,263. So another 15.3% of Arizona’s population was concentrated in that metropolitan area, and together the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas accounted for 80.8% of Arizona’s population. Likewise, in 2010, Nevada’s population was 2,700,551. Las Vegas was the 30th largest city in the U.S., with a population of 583,756, and the Las Vegas metropolitan area had a population of 1,951,269. So 72.2% of the population of Nevada was concentrated in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. In addition, in 2010, the city of Reno had a population of 225,221, and the Reno metropolitan area had a population of 425,417, accounting for another 15.7% of Nevada’s population. So 88% of Nevada’s population is concentrated in the Las Vegas and Reno metropolitan areas. Lastly, although Texas has the largest rural population of any state, with 3.6 million residents living in rural areas, the percentage of Texans living in urban areas has increased from just over 60% in 1950 to more than 85% today.
I will highlight in future posts in the series how these political trends are already making those states increasingly pro-labor.