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For Immigrants, It’s Increasingly Home, Home In The ‘Burbs

New York suburbs are attracting newcomers

It’s no news that New York City, home to Ellis Island and long the gateway for immigrants into the United States, continues to attract newcomers. But what is new is how much the suburbs of New York have become immigrant magnets as well. Of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, greater New York’s saw the largest increase in its foreign-born population between 2000 and 2016, adding 1.1 million people. And for the first time ever there are more foreign-born metro-area residents living outside the city than in it.

Overall, the share of foreign-born residents in the metropolitan area increased from 24 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2016. This growth was most dramatic in areas outside the city, where foreign-born residents made up 17 percent of the population in 2000 but 22 percent in 2016. In the city, on the other hand, the foreign-born share barely budged — from 36 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2016.

Looking at the numbers a little more closely, the share of foreign-born residents increased by nine percentage points in Middlesex County, NJ, followed by eight points in the Bronx and Mercer County, NJ; seven points in Staten Island; and six points in Somerset, Bergen, Hudson, Union, and Warren Counties in New Jersey. On the other hand, the share of foreign-born residents actually decreased in Brooklyn and stayed flat in Manhattan.

It’s true that the absolute number of foreign-born residents grew the most in the Bronx. But the next six hotspots were all suburban counties — specifically, and in order of growth, Hudson, Middlesex, and Bergen Counties NJ and Suffolk, Nassau, and Westchester Counties in New York.

It is difficult to tell for sure whether immigrants bypass the city to settle directly in the suburbs, or if they first live in the city then move to the suburbs, perhaps more quickly than in previous generations. But the data provide some clues. The share of recent immigrants (those who arrived after 2010) out of all immigrants is the largest in Hudson County (25 percent), followed by Manhattan (22 percent), Middlesex County (20 percent), and the Bronx, and Essex and Passaic Counties NJ (18 percent). Overall, the share of recent immigrants is virtually the same in the city versus the surrounding counties (17 and 16 percent respectively). This suggests that there is no reason to believe that immigrants in the suburbs have been in the United States for much longer than those in the city.

So why are immigrants increasingly choosing the suburbs over the urban core? Some argue that the promise of homeownership, a more financially viable prospect in suburbs than in increasingly high-cost city centers, attracts immigrants who yearn for the permanence, legitimacy, and stability owning a home provides. This explanation may well apply to New York City, where housing costs in much of the city, including former immigrant enclaves such as Chinatown and the Lower East Side in Manhattan and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, have skyrocketed in recent years. And some immigrants head to the suburbs in search of the same things as native-born residents — better schools, more space, backyards, less noise, greater safety, and a less hectic pace of life.

Kristen Lewis is director and Sarah Burd-Sharps was formerly co-director of Measure of America. Measure of America, a nonpartisan project of the nonprofit Social Science Research Council, provides easy-to-use yet methodologically sound tools for understanding well-being and opportunity in America. Through reports, online tools, and evidence-based research, we worth with partners to breathe life into numbers, using data to identify areas of need, pinpoint levers for change, and track progress over time.  This article was originally published by Urban Matters. Urban Matters proudly launches a partnership with Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council. It’s an occasional series drawn from their new report “A Portrait of New York City 2018: Well-Being in the Five Boroughs and the Greater Metro Area.”

“A Portrait of New You City 2018: Well-Being in the Five Boroughs and the Greater Metro Are” examines well-being and access to opportunity for different geographies and demographic group in New York City and the greater New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan area using the human development framework and index. This report also examines a range of issues that contribute to and/or are compounded by the well-being challenges faced by man New York City communities, such as child poverty, health inequities, racism, and residential segregation. 

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