Foreign-Born Population Declining in California and U.S.

The above-linked report from the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development observes the end of a trend of an increasing percentage of foreign-born people in both the California population and the U.S. population as a whole.  The percent of foreign-born in California peaked at an astounding 27.4% in 2007.

California is widely known for its large foreign-born population.  Among the state’s 33,871,648 residents in the 2000 census, 26.2% were foreign-born, the highest share of any foreign born of any state in the nation, more than twice the U.S. foreign-born share of 11.1%, and a higher share than any major nation, including Australia and Canada.  That share had soared markedly in recent decades, nearly doubling from 15.1% in 1980.  However, our California Demographic Futures projections issued in 2001 and 2005 anticipated that the foreign-born share would grow much more slowly after 2000 and level off below 30% by 2020. 

The report goes on to note that the leveling-off of this figure has occurred much more quickly than anticipated, declining in 2008 and falling to 25.7% in 2010.  It attributes it to a decline in immigration and an acceleration in emigration that accompanied the “Great Recession.”  But it seems clear to me that this leveling process began before the recession took hold and can likely be attributed to successes by the Bush administration in tightening border security and increasing work place enforcement of immigration laws.  The Obama administration would be wise to build on this success.

The good news is that the percent of foreign-born has leveled off and is even declining slightly.  The bad news is that it’s still far higher than the level needed to attain population stability.  For the U.S. as a whole, it needs to fall from its current level of 12.2 % to less than 1%. 

But there’s also some good news in the “Implications and Conclusions” section at the end of the report.  Instead of bemoaning this downward tick in the foreign-born percentage of the population, the authors draw the following conclusion:

The growing California homegrown majority represents the future of the state, no matter what their parents’ origins.  They are the future workers, taxpayers, and homebuyers.

… Perhaps the wake-up message will come from the surprising news that the foreign-born population has leveled off, that immigration is no longer accelerating and threatening to fill up the state.  With immigration abating, fears should subside, and cooler heads can plan how best to build a better California. 

There is a danger that those charged with immigration enforcement and policy-setting will be lulled into complacency by this tiny bit of encouraging news.  But it’s also possible that this may signal a change in attitudes toward the use of immigration and population growth as an engine for driving economic growth.  It’s encouraging to see that the authors of this report seem ready to bid farewell to the immigration paradigm and move on.

3 Responses to Foreign-Born Population Declining in California and U.S.

  1. mtnmike says:

    Several years ago I heard a great argument on this subject; no work, slow or reverse immigration. There has been an oversupply of labor in California for years now when we consider sustainable employment as a basis.

    The article comments on “leveling off more quickly than anticipated.” Saturation of the job market has that effect.

    California has in my opinion reached zenith for viable employment when pitted against physical resources. As far as “filling up the state,” that goal was accomplished many moons ago.

    I believe that these folks are grasping at imaginary straws.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      You are certainly right that saturation of the job market has occurred in California (and throughout most of the U.S., for that matter). Yet, the federal government continues to grant H-1B visas like they’re going out of style.

      The authors of this report may be grasping at straws but, in this case, it’s not imaginary. But it’s little more than a straw nonetheless. Since we’ve watched the whole immigration situation growing worse for decades, it’s hard to acknowledge some improvement when it finally comes. It’s OK to have a glimmer of hope from these tiny baby steps in the right direction.

  2. Ken Hoop says:

    and not a moment too soon,if so.

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