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Who people live with, not where, gives different picture of immigrants in US


Immigrants are more dispersed and far more entwined with American-born people when measured by the households in which they live rather than counted individually on the traditional basis of census tract, neighborhood, metropolitan area or state.

Using federal Census Bureau data from 1997 through 2001, geographers Mark Ellis of the University of Washington and Richard Wright of Dartmouth College, found that there are about 17 million third-generation or more Americans living in households with immigrants or children of immigrants.

Writing in the current online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ellis and Wright classified immigrants and their descendents by generations into seven different household types to alter the focus from individuals to relationships between individuals.

For their study, Ellis and Wright defined "foreign-stock households" as those containing at least one foreign-born person or someone who had at least one parent who was foreign-born. Their seven types of households are made up of various combinations of the generations, such as immigrant-only households and immigrant/second-generation households.

By their calculations, 22 percent of the U.S. population is of foreign-stock, but more than 28 percent of the American population – about 76.5 million – are living in foreign-stock households.

"In places such as Southern California, it is harder and harder to find families that are not touched by immigration," said Ellis. "When you look at immigrants, many more than is generally thought are living with U.S.-born people. Once the focus shifts to households, the experience of immigration is very widespread, and not just in large cities."

More than half of U.S. immigrants live in just six states – California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Texas and New Jersey.

However, there are signs of a greater dispersion beyond these states for smoke foreign-stock households.

Ellis and Wright showed this dispersion by devising a series of four maps showing the distribution and concentrations of different types of foreign-stock households – immigrant only, immigrant/second generation, immigrant/third generation and second-generation/third generation by states. The maps are based on the ratio between each state’s share of a foreign-stock household group and its share of the total U.S. population.

The maps paint different pictures. The immigrant only map is a fairly recognizable one. It shows the highest concentration of immigrants in California, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Hawaii and smaller concentrations in Texas and several states touching California. Illinois, which ranks among the top states in numbers of immigrants, is not highly ranked because its share of immigrants is smaller than its share of the total U.S. population.

The map of the immigrant/second-generation households is similar to the immigrant only map, but there are several significant changes. Nevada jumps into the top category while New Jersey and Florida fall out of it. Illinois and Rhode Island move from being underrepresented to overrepresented by this immigrant group.

The immigrant/third-generation map shows a very different picture. Hawaii, Florida, Arizona and Colorado have the greatest relative concentrations of these kinds of households. New York and California are moderately overrepresented, along with a large number of states in the West and Northeast plus Minnesota and North Carolina.

The final map, this one of second- and third-generation households, shows an even more dispersed population, with Washington, Hawaii and states in the Northeast showing the highest concentrations.

On all four maps, foreign-stock households are underrepresented in the Southeast.

Ellis said that anxieties or anti-immigrant biases held by some Americans need to be filtered through the reality of today’s foreign-stock households.

"Anxieties about immigrants are heavily infused with racial feelings about ’other people.’ I hope this paper shows linkages between U.S.-born and immigrants are tight at the household level. If you push immigration to the household level it makes it harder and harder to fear immigrants. Many fears are essentially ridiculous when you see, for example, a Mexican man married to a white woman in Minnesota. Immigrants are indelibly integrated into the United States at the family level," Ellis said.

Joel Schwarz | EurekAlert!
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