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New York City's Immigrant Population Soars

Study: The Big Apple's Foreign-Born Numbers Have Doubled Since '70

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No U.S. mayor has been a more vocal supporter of comprehensive immigration reform than New York’s Michael Bloomberg, and 2010 study of the city’s immigrant population helps explain why.

While New York City has always been the preeminent gateway to America, the number of immigrants drawn to the Statue of Liberty has skyrocketed in recent decades.

No wonder Mayor Bloomberg wants more visas for skilled immigrants and has called on all presidential candidates to make immigration reform part of the 2012 campaign debate. Consider these numbers from the study:

  • New York City’s foreign-born population has gone through a period of meteoric growth. Between 1970 and 2008, the number of non-native New Yorkers doubled to 3 million while the native-born population declined by more than 1 million.
  • Immigrants accounted for 36.4% of New York’s population in 2008, twice the percentage of 1970, and 43% of the city’s workforce.
  • Immigrants have a huge economic impact on New York. They accounted for $215 billion in economic activity in 2008 alone, about 32% of the city’s gross production.
  • Immigrant-rich neighborhoods have stronger economies. The 10 neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of foreign-born residents had stronger growth than the rest of the city between 2000 and 2007.
  • On the whole, the city’s immigrant families have gained independence and stability over the last two decades. The median household income of the foreign-born population doubled from $23,900 in 1990 to $45,000 in 2007, and during the same period, the number of immigrants owning homes also doubled.
  • More than 1.9 million foreign-born workers had jobs in the city as of 2008, including 285,000 commuters. Foreign-born workers make up 30% of all workers who commute to the city.
  • Foreign-born workers make up 72% of psychiatric, nursing and home health aides in the city; more than 50% of the licensed practical, vocation and registered nurses; 46% of the physicians and surgeons; 40% of the accountants an auditors; 27% of the chief executives.

Immigrants’ share of the city’s population peaked around 1910 at 41%, and by 1970, the share had fallen to 18%. The last three decades have seen a remarkable rebound in the foreign-born population. Of the 55 New York neighborhoods that the U.S. Census Bureau defines, nine have immigrant populations that exceed 50%.

Overall, the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn have the highest concentration of immigrants, 47% and 37%, respectively. In Queens, immigrants make up more than half the workforce and in Brooklyn they make up 48%.

Of the 55 New York neighborhoods that the U.S. Census Bureau defines, nine have immigrant populations that exceed 50%.

Immigrants continue to dominate many essential occupations in the city. They account for 87% of the taxi drivers and chauffeurs, 83% of maids and housekeepers, 79 % of food preparation workers, 77% of cooks, 75% of personal and home care aides, 73% of chefs and head cooks, 72% of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, 64% of child care workers, 64% of waiters and waitresses, 64% of janitors and building cleaners.

Immigrants to the city come from at least 148 different nations, though 52% of them are from 10 countries: the Dominican Republic ranks No. 1, followed by China, Jamaica, Mexico, Guyana, Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Russia and Korea.

Immigrants invigorate the city’s neighborhoods and gave New York a cultural signature unlike anywhere else. What would the Big Apple be without Chinatown, Corona, Elmhurst, Coney Island, Washington Heights and Flushing?

The office of New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released the immigration study in January 2010.

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