Immigration fuels cities' growth Census finds major areas grew even as many residents left


WASHINGTON -- The Census Bureau offered fresh evidence yesterday of the impact of immigration on the country's population in this decade, reporting that several major metropolitan areas -- notably New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- grew strongly even as many longtime residents left for other parts of the country.

The influx of immigrants helped turn these areas, as well as the Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston regions, into some of the biggest gainers in population in the country. Growth in those regions was also aided by high numbers of births, another side effect of immigration because immigrants are more likely to be of child-bearing age, and immigrant women tend to have higher birth rates than their American-born counterparts.

"If you look at some of the Frost Belt areas like New York and Chicago, international immigration is very important," said Marc Perry, a demographer with the Census Bureau. "Their population increases aren't coming from domestic migration."

The Census Bureau's data will undoubtedly add to the debate over whether increased competition for jobs in areas where immigrants have clustered is pushing out native-born Americans, whether those who depart would have left anyway, lured by better economic prospects elsewhere.

The impact of immigration on population patterns was derived from two Census Bureau studies released yesterday: one on population changes state by state and the other on changes in the country's 273 metropolitan areas -- cities and their surrounding suburbs.

The year-end studies, containing figures for 1990 through 1996, and interviews with demographers indicate that two years from the end of the century, Americans are a people in motion, willing to move often and across long distances in search of better jobs, a more enjoyable or less expensive lifestyle or a strong support system of family and friends.

Sifting through the Census Bureau's data, three trends emerged: Growth remains strongest in the Sun Belt states of the South and West, which contain the 50 metropolitan areas with the highest growth rates. Las Vegas, fueled by the gambling industry, is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country. And the impact of immigrants is profound.

Perhaps the most striking of these involves immigration.

The Census Bureau report on metropolitan areas indicated that three of the 10 areas experiencing the fastest rate of growth -- McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas; Laredo, Texas, and Brownsville-Harlingen-San Benito, Texas -- are in the Rio Grande Valley and are gateway cities for many immigrants from Mexico.

The report also noted that of the 10 metropolitan areas that have gained the most people, eight -- Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Washington, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle -- have benefited from high levels of immigration.

Even as some of these regions gain population overall, their central cores continue to lose people. In New York, for example, Census Bureau demographers estimate that although the metropolitan area gained nearly 389,000 people from 1990 through 1996, more than 900,000 migrated out from the core area of New York's five boroughs, plus Westchester, Rockland NTC and Putnam Counties. The Census Bureau considers the New York metropolitan region to be this core area, Long Island and parts of Southern Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In California, more than 1.2 million people left Los Angeles County from 1990 through 1996. But because of immigration and a high number of births, the Los Angeles metropolitan area gained 963,626 people, making it the biggest gainer in population of all the country's metropolitan areas.

The same held true last year for California as a whole, according to the report on state-by-state growth. Last year, the state added more than 410,000 people, far and away the largest numerical increase of any state.

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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