Without immigrants pouring into the nation’s big metro areas, places such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston would be shrinking as native-born Americans move farther out.
Many smaller areas, including Battle Creek, Mich., Ames, Iowa, and Corvallis, Ore., would shrink as well, according to population estimates to be released Thursday by the Census Bureau.
“Immigrants are filling the void as domestic migrants are seeking opportunities in other places,” said Mark Mather, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a private research organization.
The Census Bureau estimates annual population totals as of July 1, using local records of births and deaths, Internal Revenue Service records of people moving within the United States and census statistics on immigrants. The estimates released Thursday were for metropolitan areas, which generally include cities and their surrounding suburbs.
Among the findings:
* Atlanta added more people than any other metro area from 2000 to 2006. The Atlanta area, which includes Sandy Springs and Marietta, Ga., added 890,000 people, putting its population at about 5.1 million. Gaining the most after Atlanta were Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Phoenix and Riverside, Calif.
* Parts of the Rust Belt also had large declines. The Pittsburgh metro area led the way, losing 60,000 people from 2000 to 2006. Its population loss was followed by declines in Cleveland, Buffalo, N.Y., Youngstown, Ohio, and Scranton, Pa.
* Houston edged past Miami to become the sixth largest metro area, with about 5.5 million people. Miami slipped to seventh.
There are about 36 million immigrants in the U.S. About one-third are in the country illegally. The Census Bureau, however, does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.
Link with economy?
Many demographers associate shrinking populations with economic problems, typically poor job markets or prohibitive housing prices.
Advocates for stricter immigration laws question whether a stable, or even a shrinking population, is bad.
“Don’t we have concerns about congestion and sprawl and pollution?” asked Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration policies.
“Maybe those metro areas should think about what it would take to make Americans want to live there,” Camarota said.
The San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas are slowly rebounding from the dot-gone population bust of the early 2000s, new U.S. Census Bureau data show.
The nine-county region’s population grew by almost 2 percent, adding more than 136,000 residents between 2000 and 2006, according to data to be released today. That brought the Bay Area’s population on July 1, 2006, to 7.2 million, with about 57 percent of the increase due to international immigration.
“There is something of a comeback for the Bay Area,” said Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. The impact of the high-tech industry downturn “may have receded and people may be coming to grips with the expensive housing market. It’s a modest good news story for Bay Area.”
The growth is sluggish, however, Frey pointed out. The combined populations of San Francisco, Oakland and Fremont and their surrounding areas grew just 0.5 percent between 2005 and 2006. The area had previously lost population each year this decade, according to Census Bureau estimates. The population of the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area grew 1.5 percent between 2005 and 2006.
Compare that to growth of 3.1 percent between 2005 and 2006 in Bakersfield, the state’s fastest-growing metropolitan area. The combined metropolitan area of Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario came in a close second with a 3 percent growth rate. Demographers who have been watching California’s inland growth say it is driven by the high cost of housing in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Among the 361 metro areas across the country included in the new census data, the Atlanta area experienced the largest gain between 2000 and 2006, growing by 890,000 people to a population of 5.1 million.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area experienced the second-largest increase, adding 842,000 people between 2000 and 2006 for a total last July of about 6 million people.
Frey and other analysts have noted that immigration, rather than natural increasebirths minus deathsaccount for a large chunk of the population gains in big cities that grew.
For example, almost 38,000 people moved away from the region that includes Boston, Cambridge and Quincy, Mass., between 2005 and 2006, yet its population grew 0.1 percent because of net international immigration of 24,700 people and natural increase of 19,238 (54,878 births minus 35,640 deaths), according to the new Census Bureau estimates.
In California, the Los Angeles-Orange County region grew 0.1 percent between 2005 and 2006, when 229,000 residents left, 120,000 international migrants arrived and there was natural increase of 126,568. The San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region, which grew 0.5 percent, lost 42,500 residents to migration within the U.S and gained 27,495 from natural increase and 36,800 from international immigration.
Find population estimates at the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site: www.census.gov.