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Immigrant story

The city of Rochester’s declining population is an old story. Since peaking around 1950, the number of people living in the city has fallen by roughly 122,000—or more than one-third—to 210,000.

The latest chapter in this story is less well-known, however. Rochester’s population in recent years has stabilized. In fact, data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show a slight increase from 2009 to 2014.

What explains this positive change? One factor stands out: an increase in the city’s immigrant population.

Over the five-year period, the number of foreign-born Rochesterians jumped nearly 20 percent, to 19,207. By contrast, the city’s native-born population declined slightly.

Immigrants in 2014 represented 9.1 percent of Rochester’s population, up from 7.7 percent five years before.

The trend these numbers represent fits into a larger picture described in a recent article on Governing.com. Its analysis of data for all cities with at least 100,000 residents found that the nation’s largest cities no longer have the biggest gains in immigrant population; instead, parts of the Midwest and Rust Belt are showing the fastest growth.

One reason: A number of cities have adopted strategies to attract the foreign born, as a way to grow their economies and stem population losses. In Dayton, Ohio, which approved its “Welcome Dayton” initiative in 2011, the foreign-born population jumped 62 percent from 2009 to 2014. Louisville and Columbus are other examples.

In Buffalo, where many see a robust economic turnaround, the foreign-born population grew 34 percent while the native-born segment slid 7 percent.

Some think immigrants take jobs from native-born Americans, but that’s not what researchers have found. Typically, native-born workers and immigrants occupy different labor markets. 

Even with the recent growth, Rochester’s percentage of foreign-born residents trails the national average. Doing more to become an immigrant-friendly city could be a way to help build a vibrant future.

8/26/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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