The foreign-born factor

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For the fourth straight year, the Census Bureau’s latest one-year population estimates show a decline in the number of people living in the Rochester metropolitan area. And the loss—nearly 6,900 people—is more than double any recorded in the previous three years. 

The estimates contained another number that also should cause concern: a drop in the number of foreign-born residents. That figure fell by 931, or 1.9 percent—much sharper than the 0.5 percent decline in the native-born population.

Why focus on the foreign-born population? Because growth in that segment has helped to stabilize the region’s overall population in recent years. However, the number of foreign-born residents now has dropped in two of the last three years.

The Census Bureau’s one-year estimates are by no means definitive; the bureau’s American Community Survey also produces five-year estimates that have more statistical reliability. But the single-year data is more up to date.

With the one-year estimates, the odds any given year’s change falls within the margin of error is higher. But since this is unlikely to be true every year, a clear trend line should not be ignored.

Rochester’s foreign-born population decline parallels the national ACS results. A Brookings Institution analysis shows that from 2017 to 2018, the growth of America’s foreign-born population was the smallest since the start of the Great Recession.

Nationwide, the slow growth resulted from an absolute decline in the number of noncitizens, while the naturalized population gained ground. In the Rochester area, both groups shrank, though noncitizens declined at a faster rate.

As for the drop in noncitizens—both legal and undocumented—the Brookings researchers wrote: “(I)t is likely that the Trump administration’s actions reducing admission of refugees and its anti-immigrant rhetoric have contributed to fewer inflows and greater outflows of foreign-born residents who are not naturalized citizens.”

While some people share the president’s views on immigration, the foreign-born population, as the Beacon has previously reported, is woven into our community’s history and identity. And new immigrants can play an important role in economic revitalization—in particular, in the city of Rochester.

Numerous studies have shown that the belief immigrants take jobs from American workers is not well-founded. A 2016 study by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli termed immigrants a key economic asset. On average, they have a higher level of education than the overall population and high rates of employment (often in different labor markets than native-born residents) and entrepreneurship.

The foreign-born population also is vitally important to area colleges and universities, but it is an asset at risk due to current policies.

Although the foreign-born population here declined more sharply in 2018 than the native-born, at 76,552, immigrants still account for roughly the same percentage of the overall population of 1,071,082: 7.1 percent. Statewide and nationally, however, immigrants represent a considerably larger segment of the population than they do here. 

Doing more to draw immigrants here could help stem our region’s population loss and spur economic growth.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

One thought on “The foreign-born factor

  1. Thanks so much for drawing attention to this important issue. We have a real opportunity to increase our regional prosperity if we reverse this trend and focus on attracting more foreign-born residents.

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