By Sharon Simonson
International migrants are fueling population growth coast to coast in U.S. counties with technology- and innovation-centered economies.
From the boroughs of New York City to Boston, Los Angeles and San Jose, existing residents are leaving tech-oriented metros, and international migrants are replacing them. Without the immigrants and returning U.S. residents in the last five years, many of the metros would have seen their population growth slow dramatically.
Only tech centers Austin and Seattle are drawing steady streams of new residents from neighboring counties and other states and from overseas. The two metros have population growth at more than twice the rate of the nation at large, according to the 2015 population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau on March 24.
Most but not all U.S. technology and innovation-oriented metros are growing faster than the country. Notable exceptions are Manhattan and Los Angeles. Both counties are losing existing residents at an increasing pace. In Los Angeles County, residents are leaving faster than immigrants can replace them.
Rising population “is not the only way for an economy to grow, but it is an important way,” said California economist Christopher Thornberg. “That is the criticism of Japan and Europe versus the United States, that one of the reasons we grow faster is our (faster) population growth.”
Despite the nativist political rhetoric in the U.S. presidential race, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections, nearly all U.S. population growth in the next 45 years is attributable to immigration. New economic-development efforts across the U.S. from the Rust Belt and Midwest to Atlanta and Denver focus on attracting immigrants.
International migrants — defined for the Census Bureau as foreign-born people immigrating to the United States plus returning American expats and military personnel — accounted for 42 percent of the 12.7 million in U.S. population growth from mid-2010 to mid-2015. The remaining 7.3 million net new residents were newborn babies.
The departure of existing residents and the arrival of the foreign-born in the nation’s innovation- and tech-focused metros reflect global labor markets, Thornberg said. Cities enhance the earning opportunities for the high-skilled more than they do the lesser-skilled. “The two major reasons that people move tend to boil down to the cost of living, and that is driven by the cost of homes, and the job opportunity, as dictated by incomes and unemployment,” Thornberg said.
“In San Jose, the economy is super hot, but home prices are through the roof, and those tend to offset each other. The population base is growing, but in a certain way: Lower-skilled people are moving out, and higher-skilled are moving in,” he said.
Silicon Valley — Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties — is more dependent on foreign-born labor than other U.S. technology economies, according to the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project. In a February report, SVCIP identified six innovation economies nationally: the Bay Area, New York City, Boston, Austin, Seattle and Southern California’s Los Angeles and San Diego.
The new Census Bureau population estimates, the first major accounting of 2015, are presented at the county level. They show the components of population change for five years and from 2014 to 2015. Besides tracing the movement of international migrants in and out of each county, they delineate the movement of existing residents in and out, “domestic migration.” They also report “natural increase,” the ratio of births to deaths.
California’s biggest county by far, Los Angeles, saw its population rise by nearly 352,000 people in the last five years. The growth was mostly driven by more than 680,000 births. More than 318,000 people also died, which reduced the total increase.