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Immigrants Offset Population and Workforce Losses in Wisconsin Cities

Immigrants are playing a very important role in boosting cities in Wisconsin and across the Midwest, according to a report issued last month.  The recent report, written by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, analyzed 2000 and 2010 decennial census data and found that the arrival of immigrants over the last decade helped reverse a trend of declining populations in cities throughout the Midwest.

Here are some of the highlights of the report, “Growing the Heartland: How Immigrants Offset Population Decline and an Aging Workforce in Midwest Metropolitan Areas,” (.pdf link) pertaining to Midwest metropolitan areas:

  • Over the last decade alone, the region’s foreign born population rose 27.4% (from 3.5 million to 4.5 million).
  • Immigrant population growth accounts for 38% of metropolitan area growth in the Midwest.
  • Only 67% of native-born Midwesterners live in metro-areas, compared to 88% of immigrants.
  • Although this region’s native-born population in the 35-to-44 age group saw a 20.6% decrease between 2000 and 2010, the immigrant population in that age range experienced a 44.2% increase.

The same trends can be seen in the report’s data for Wisconsin cities, shown in the following table.

The next table focuses on an especially important part of the workforce, people in the age range of 35 through 44.  It illustrates that Wisconsin cities have had a rapidly shrinking number of people in that age range who were born in the U.S., but the declining native born population is being partially offset by immigrants in that age range.

At a time when immigration is still a fairly controversial topic, it is important to note the beneficial roles it plays across the Midwest. Aside from helping to sustain the population, immigration brings young workers into a workforce that is aging quickly. However, in order to fully leverage the benefits of Midwestern immigration, metropolitan areas must work to ease the transition for immigrants into the economy, labor market, and civic processes.

For Wisconsin and its cities to grow and prosper, we need to help immigrants become productive workers, active consumers and engaged citizens.  As the report concludes,

this requires new federal policies and, yes, immigration reform, that fully recognize immigration as an asset, not a burden, to the region.

by Jelicia Diggs and Jon Peacock

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