On Dec 02 2009 by William A. Stock

Is the Delaware Valley Really an Immigration Underacheiver?

Yesterday, the Fiscal Policy Institute released a detailed analysis of census and economic data in the 25 largest metropolitan areas of the United States.  The analysis looked at the number of first-generation immigrants (see notes below the jump) as a share of the population in each of these metro areas, and also at the economic growth in those metropolitan areas.  Overall, the analysis concluded that those metropolitan areas with the highest rates of immigration between 1990 and 2007 also had the highest levels of economic growth in that time frame, which made me curious to see how Philadelphia did in each of those rankings.

First, in the Philadelphia metropolitan area (which includes the counties around Philadelphia and Camden, as well as those around Wilmington, Delaware), first generation immigrants are a lower percentage of the population than any of the metropolitan areas of comparable size around the United States.  When compared with our “peer” metro areas (those with around 6 million population, namely Dallas, Houston, Miami, Washington, DC, and Atlanta), we rank last.

In fact, Philadelphia’s first generation immigrant population of about 500,000 out of a total population of roughly six million, or 9%, is tied for seventeenth among the twenty-five major metropolitan areas – we are tied with Minneapolis and Detroit, and beat out only five (Baltimore, at 8%, Cleveland, 6%,  and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, both 3%).

As the report notes, immigrant population is strongly correlated with economic growth: when ranking those same metropolitan areas by percentage of immigrants in the labor force compared to economic growth (both figures calculated from 1990 to 2005-2007), those metropolitan areas with the largest growth in their immigrant labor force also had the largest percentage economic growth.   While the study does not argue that immigration causes economic growth, it is clear that immigration and economic growth go hand in hand: a growing economy attracts immigrant workers, and immigrant workers in turn become consumers in that economy and help it continue to grow.

Philadelphia and the other four large metropolitan areas on the East Coast (Boston, New York, Washington and Atlanta) were also analyzed in further detail.  The percentage of immigrants in the labor force in Philadelphia is lowest of these five areas, but are spread relatively evenly through the occupations.  In fact, in our area, immigrants are more likely to be in professional and technical occupations (doctors, engineers, technicians, etc.) than US workers – while 11% of the area’s total labor force are first generation immigrants, more than 15% of the labor force in these occupations are first generation immigrants.  Given the importance of education, healthcare and other “knowledge industries” to our region, it is clear that we are “punching above our weight” in attracting these highly-qualified immigrants to the Philadelphia area.

Notes:

“First generation immigrants” includes all persons not born US citizens, so includes people who immigrated to the United States and have chosen to naturalize as US citizens, as well as both temporary and permanent legal immigrants, and those who have immigrated without legal status.  Of first generation immigrants, less than one third are without status.