Data Interactives

Immigration in America, explained through data visualization

Immigration and America’s Growth

Date: May 14, 2021

From our biggest cities to the heartland, immigration is increasingly important in keeping many parts of America growing.

With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring daily and the working-age population growing slower than it has in decades, communities face the prospect of running out of workers and losing residents. A stable, if not growing, population is the foundation of a healthy economy. Industries need workers to fill orders and to expand, businesses need a consumer base to survive, and governments need a solid tax base to pay for services and infrastructure. A shrinking population is an inversion of this cycle. As such, where immigrants settle as workers, consumers, and taxpayers may determine which areas prosper and which struggle.

To discover how these trends are being played out today, we looked at the most recent population estimates for every county in the country between 2010 and 2019 from the U.S. Census Bureau to figure out which counties were growing and which were shrinking and how big of a role immigration played in each.

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Since 2010, every state has seen some positive population change from immigrants.

Domestic population change, which includes natural increase and migration to and from other parts of the United States, however, has not been uniformly positive across the country.

All in all, 37 states and the District of Columbia saw increases due to both their domestic growth and international migration between 2010 and 2019.

Other states who lost people domestically were able to balance out these losses or kept from shrinking even further thanks to new arrivals from abroad.

Thanks to this double-headed growth, Utah, Texas, and D.C. had the fastest growing populations between 2010 and 2019.

Significant shares of their growth was due to international migration. Texas, for example, owed 21.3% of its overall growth to immigration. Meanwhile, in Florida, the nation’s 4th fastest growing state, 41.6% was due to new immigrants.

Six states with slow domestic growth grew mainly from significant international migration.

In these states, immigration outpaced sluggish domestic population growth. Across these six states, immigrants from abroad accounted for at least 60 percent of the growth. This reliance on new immigration was even more pronounced in Kansas, New Mexico, Maine, and Alaska, states that would have seen only marginal growth without immigration.

Meanwhile, nine states grew only because international migration reversed domestic population loss.

These states would have shrunk had it not been for immigration. Some states like Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Ohio had only small decreases due to out-migration or natural decrease to overcome. Others, like New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island were able to balance out and reverse large numbers of departing residents with new immigrants from abroad.

Not all states saw overall growth. In four states, immigration was only able to partially reverse domestic population loss.

Four states (IL, WV, CT, and VT) shrank, but would have shrunk significantly more had it not been for new immigrants.

International increase > Domestic increase International increase < Domestic decrease
International increase < Domestic increase International decrease & Domestic decrease
International increase > Domestic decrease
Internationaldecrease < Domestic increase
Domestic population increase and decrease = Domestic migration + births - deaths

Looking at population change at a state level only tells part of the story. Digging deeper we can see how important immigration is to growth at a local level.

States are large and cover a wide range of areas, from cities, to suburbs, to rural and agricultural communities. Growth, aging, and migration patterns all vary across these different kinds of places in the United States.

In the map, we show growing counties in shades of blue with shrinking ones in shades of red.

A general pattern emerges: More counties to the West and in the South grew. And more urban and suburban counties nationwide seem to be growing while rural and more sparsely populated counties appear to be shrinking, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast.

Breaking down overall population change into its two components, domestic and international population change allows us to explore patterns in international and domestic growth across the country.

1,144 counties had positive domestic and international growth. In 144 of them, growth was fueled by immigrants from abroad rather than by domestic growth.

Many of these 144 counties are densely populated counties that make up America’s largest urban and suburban areas like San Francisco or DeKalb County, Georgia. There were less populated areas as well, like Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin (Population: 103,000) as well as some rural counties like Hockley County, Texas (Population: 23,000).

Had it not been for immigrants from abroad, more than 160 U.S. counties would have shrank.

The counties marked in gold, meanwhile did not see enough immigration to make up for domestic losses. In these counties, immigration helped to stem the tide of decreasing populations, helping keep local tax bases and consumer markets viable.

Immigration helped dampen the impact of shrinking populations in almost 1,300 counties--more than one-third of all counties in the United States.

The counties marked in gold, meanwhile did not see enough immigration to make up for losses in residents. In these counties, immigration helped to stem the tide of decreasing populations, helping keep local tax bases and consumer markets viable.

Shrinking counties are overwhelmingly rural.

The 518 in light blue shrank because more people left the country than immigrated in or were born.

Meanwhile, counties in red may face the hardest challenge.

These counties are losing people both to emigration as well as having more deaths than births.

Of the 352 counties that saw domestic decreases, 83% are rural.

For more rural, less economically vibrant, and less immigrant-heavy states such as West Virginia and Mississippi, the severity of the problem is clear. Without immigrants to shore up populations, these rural areas face aging workforces, shrinking tax bases, and a shortage of healthcare workers including doctors.

Immigration significantly influences population growth rates in 3,140 U.S. counties.

The interactive below allows you to choose between viewing county data as a map or a four quadrant scatter plot. A search tool is also available to find specific counties, and three buttons allow you to highlight metro and non metro counties.