Report: Immigration a Demographic Lifeline in Midwestern Metros

March 23, 2017

Immigrant populations in Midwest metro areas rose by nearly 35 percent between 2000 and 2015, helping offset relatively slow regional population growth, says a new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Specifically, an increase of 313,000 immigrants aged 35-44 years helped offset a 1.4 million person decline in the native-born population in the same age group – those of prime working age.

The report, “Immigration a Demographic Lifeline in Midwestern Metros,” by demographer and Council nonresident fellow Rob Paral, shows how immigrants have helped offset native-born population loss and revitalize an aging workforce in 46 metro areas in the 12-state region – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The data refreshes a similar study Paral did for the Council in 2014.

“For many years, the Midwest has experienced substantial out-migration of residents to other parts of the country, contributing to ‘slow-growth’ or even ‘no-growth’ patterns across the region,” said Paral. “This data demonstrates that immigration offsets or reverses some of these patterns – and policymakers should reconsider whether further cuts to immigration are in the best interest of the region.”

Key report findings include:

  • Midwest metro populations rose only 7 percent from 2000 to 2015 compared to 14 percent for the nation.
  • From 2000 to 2015, immigrant populations in the Midwest metro areas rose by more than one million persons or 34.5 percent.
  • Growth among immigrants accounted for about 37 percent of all Midwestern metro growth in the last 15 years. 
  • Immigration is responsible for a majority of population growth in five metro areas, including metro areas of Chicago, Rockford and Akron.
  • In numerous other metro areas, such as metro Cincinnati, Milwaukee or Minneapolis, immigration accounts for at least a quarter of population growth.
  • The number of native-born aged 35-44 fell by 1.4 million persons or 24 percent between 2000 and 2015. An increase of 313,000 immigrants aged 35-44 years has helped to offset the extreme native population loss in that category.


Growing Immigrant Populations, Slowing or Declining Native-Born Populations

The report finds that immigrants are a significant and growing portion of the Midwestern metro areas. Foreign-born persons were 7.8 percent of the Midwestern metro areas in 2000, but by 2015 their share of the population rose to 9.7 percent.

The foreign-born represent at least one in every 20 residents (5 percent of the metro population) in 29 of the 46 metro areas analyzed. Areas with the highest percentage foreign born include traditional immigrant gateways such as metro Chicago (18.1 percent foreign born), Minneapolis (11.9 percent) and Detroit (10.7 percent). But many metro areas less known for their immigrant populations now have sizable foreign-born populations, including Rockford (9.5 percent foreign born), Iowa City (9.3 percent) and Bloomington, Indiana (8.3 percent).

The immigrant portion of the population rose in nearly all of the 46 metro areas studied. The gain in percentage points was greatest in Champaign-Urbana, which rose from 8.1 percent foreign born in 2000 to 12.9 percent in 2015, Minneapolis (7.7 to 11.9 percent) and Rockford (6.2 to 9.5 percent).

Fourteen Midwest metro areas had fewer native-born residents in 2015 than in 2000. Examples include metro Akron, which lost over 4,800 native-born persons, metro Cleveland, which lost more than 97,000 natives and metro Muncie, which lost more than 2,000 natives. Additionally, slow-growing metros include Janesville (native-born growth of 6.3 percent), Racine (6.2 percent) and Lansing-East Lansing (3.8 percent).

Immigration Drives Metro Growth

Immigration is completely responsible for population growth in both the Akron and South Bend-Mishawaka areas, where the native-born population fell between 2000 and 2015 but the arrival of immigrants more than made up for the loss of the native born. Immigration is mostly responsible for growth the Chicago, Rockford and Sheboygan metro areas, where the foreign-born were behind at least half of metro growth. And immigration is part of growth – though not the majority of the growth – in the majority of the other Midwestern metro areas. The share of growth represented by immigration ranges from 3.6 percent in Janesville to 45.3 percent in Champaign-Urbana.

Immigration Slows Working-Age Native Decline

The native-born cohort aged 35-44 years has dropped in all 46 Midwest metro areas since the year 2000. In half (22 of 46 metros) the decline in this group exceeds 30 percent. At the same time, the number of immigrants in this age category rose, in some instances by more than 100 percent. The foreign-born now play a critical role in offsetting regional workforce gaps created by an aging native-born population.

For full tables of data in the 46 metro regions, please click here.

For the full report, including methodology, please click here.