Immigration Remakes and Sustains New York, Report Finds

Kirk Semple, New York Times, December 19, 2013

He arrived in the United States in 1988, an uneducated 21-year-old from rural Fujian Province, China. With the help of smugglers he made his way to Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, found work in a variety of restaurants and, in time, managed to get a green card.

Within the next several years, the man, Mr. Wang, was joined in New York by numerous relatives: cousins, uncles and aunts. Some came on family-related visas, others sneaked in, and still others were given asylum. There were marriages and children, the roots of the family tree pushing deeper into American soil. His extended family in the United States now numbers in the scores, many of them living in the Chinese enclaves of New York City.

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The migratory experience of the Wang family is part of a larger narrative that is transforming the city: the tremendous growth of the Chinese population over the past several decades. Now the second-largest foreign-born group in the city, Chinese are on the verge of overtaking immigrants from the Dominican Republic for the top spot.

The evolution of the Chinese diaspora is one of the stories of New York explored in a new report by the City Planning Department that provides a detailed statistical analysis of the city’s ever-shifting immigrant population, charting where the most recent arrivals have come from, where they have settled, the jobs they have taken and their effects on the economy.

Called The Newest New Yorkers, the 235-page report is the fifth edition of a study first released in 1992. It is intended as a reference for policy makers, planners and service providers, its authors said, “to help them gain perspective on a population that continues to reshape the city.”

Now numbering about 3.1 million—a record high—the city’s immigrant population, about 37 percent of the overall population of 8.2 million New Yorkers, is more kaleidoscopic than ever, in large part a result of the passage of 1965 immigration legislation that allowed more people to come from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. In a city that once had a population of predominantly European origin, there is now no dominant racial, ethnic or nationality group.

“New York arguably boasts the most diverse population of any major city in the world because of the flow of immigrants from across the globe,” the report said.

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Dominicans have made up the city’s largest immigrant group since 1990 and currently number about 380,200 residents. But Chinese, who have held the No. 2 spot for that period, are close behind, with 350,200. While the Dominican population has grown about 3 percent in the past decade, the Chinese population has grown 34 percent. China was also the single largest source of legally admitted immigrants in New York City from 2002 to 2011, with more than 40 percent of them granted asylum, said the report, which was largely based on Census Bureau data as well other federal and city administrative data.

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Still, the rate of growth among Chinese pales in comparison with the growing number of Mexicans. In the past decade, the Mexican population has surged by 52 percent, the largest spurt of any group among the 10 largest immigrant groups in the city, pushing Mexicans over Guyanese and Jamaicans and moving them into third place. They now number about 186,000.

Ecuador, Haiti, India, Russia, Tobago and Trinidad rounded out the top 10 countries of origin.

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Queens has the most immigrants of any borough, with 1.09 million, or nearly half of its residents; Brooklyn followed with 946,500—or 37 percent of the borough’s overall population—with nearly half of them living in neighborhoods straddling the B/Q and N subway lines, which swoop in a vague U-shape through the western and southern reaches of the borough.

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As for the immigrants’ effects on the city’s economy, the demographers said, the foreign-born make up 47 percent of all employed residents and are disproportionately represented among those who start new businesses, “providing a continuous injection of economic vitality” and driving demand for housing.

“If history is any indication,” the report said, “the economic opportunities in New York will continue to sustain its immigrant flow.”

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