New states for newcomers

Massachusetts has long been losing native-born citizens to New Hampshire. Are we about to start losing immigrants to our northern neighbor too?

To be sure, the immigrant population in the Bay State has grown briskly since 2000, based on recent estimates by the US Census Bureau. We’ve moved up to ninth place in the percentage of population who are foreign-born, passing Illinois, and our 15.3 percent increase in this category exceeds the national average of 14.7 percent. The Bay State’s foreign-born population is now reported at 891,000—surely an undercount, since the annual estimates do not take into account “group quarters” such as college dorms and nursing homes. (They will be counted in the 2010 Census.)

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But the biggest percentage increases over the past five years have come in smaller, mostly Southern states not known as “gateway” destinations for immigrants. South Carolina saw the biggest jump (47 percent, from 116,000 to 170,000 foreign-born residents), and the immigrant population in New Hampshire rose by 34 percent, from 54,000 to 72,000. Several of the Bay State’s competitors for high-tech industry also experienced strong increases. For example, in Colorado, which has the best-educated workforce outside of Massachusetts, the foreign-born population rose by 24 percent.

Meanwhile, the two states with the biggest immigrant populations saw little change during the first half of this decade, with foreign-born residents growing by less than 10 percent. Immigrants have not stopped arriving in California and New York, but an increasing share of them seem to prefer less crowded states—as is the case with many native-born Americans.