Immigration stabilizes state population

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor



The Bay State may be losing Baby Boomers and recent college grads, but it is increasingly attractive to immigrants, according to a report released last week.

The only state in the nation with a negative population growth, Massachusetts is seeing that immigration is the one factor that is stabilizing the population. The Changing Face of Massachusetts reports that the share of immigrants in the state's workforce nearly doubled from nine percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 2004.

The new study was a joint venture between MassInc and the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Western Massachusetts, though, has experienced lower rates of immigration than the eastern part of the state where immigrants are attracted to larger cities.

In some communities in the greater Springfield area, numbers of immigrants have decreased.

Overall, the foreign-born population in Massachusetts grew by 35 percent between 1990 and 2000 (573,733 to 772,983).

Ian Bowles, the president and CEO and MassInc., explained to Reminder Publications that two previous studies of the state by his organization indicated that natives are leaving for a variety of reasons ranging from availability of jobs, especially in the high tech or knowledge industries, to the cost of housing to the climate and the high cost of heat.

The new study examines who is moving to Massachusetts and how their educational level affects their ability to find higher paying employment.

What's the country sending the most people to the state? Brazil is the country of origin for nearly one in five (19 percent) of new Massachusetts immigrants.

In Springfield, it's Jamaica (with 13percent of the city's immigrant community) and across the region immigrants from Europe and Russia are more than the state-wide average. More than 50 percent of the immigrants here are from those regions.

Bowles admitted that he was at a loss to explain why Brazilians find Massachusetts so attractive.

"The problems with the census numbers is that they don't give you the 'why,'" said Bowles.

The new wave of immigration does present a "rising English language challenge," Bowles noted.

The study reports that:

Statewide, 21percent of the immigrant population has limited English-speaking skills which will likely impede their economic success.

The ability to speak English has become the "new fault line" for economic success. An immigrant who speaks only English at home earns 2.5 times as much as one who does not speak English well ($38,526 versus $14,211).

Nearly 30 percent of adult immigrants have at least a college degree. However, immigrants are more than three times as likely as native-born adults to lack a high school degree.

The average annual earnings of an immigrant college graduate are $40, 179 compared with $14,687 for immigrant high school dropouts.

Among all adult immigrants in the state, 71 percent are not prepared for the knowledge economy. Across the state 245,161 immigrants either lack a high school diploma or have limited English-speaking skills. Another 221,986 immigrants lack essential literacy skills for high level jobs in the workplace.

MassInc. supplied the following statistics for the Springfield area:

The immigrant population in the city of Springfield increased by only 5 percent between 1990 and 2000 while Springfield and the surrounding communities together saw only a 16 percent increase (33,794 to 39,145).

The share of the region's population born outside the U.S. increased from 6 percent to 7 percent, but remained well short of the statewide average which increased from 10 percent to 12 percent over the same period.

Ludlow has the highest share of residents born outside the U.S. at 15 percent, but ranked only 27th among all communities in the state on that metric.

Twenty percent of the Springfield area immigrant community has limited English-speaking skills.

Immigrants with limited English skills make up 1.4 percent of the region's population, roughly half the statewide average of 2.7 percent.

Looking at individual communities in the Reminder Publications circulation area, the number of immigrants:

Agawam: 1,292 in 1990 at 4.7 percent of the population to 1,502 in 2000 at 5.3 percent.

Chicopee: 3,662 in 1990 at 6.5 percent of the population to 4,462 in 2000 at 8.2 percent.

East Longmeadow: 561 in 1990 at 4.2 percent of the population to 614 in 2000 at 4.4 percent.

Granby: 237 in 1990 at 4.3 percent to 147 in 2000 at 2.4 percent

Hampden: 156 in 1990 at 3.3 percent of the population to 156 in 2000 at 3.0 percent.

Holyoke: 2,463 in 1990 at 5.6 percent of the population to 2,152 in 2000 at 5.4 percent.

Longmeadow: 1,077 in 1990 at 7.0 percent of the population to 1,086 in 2000 at 6.9 percent.

Ludlow: 3,024 in 1990 at 16.1 percent of the population to 3,116 in 2000 at 14.7 percent.

South Hadley: 874 in 1990 at 5.2 percent of the population to 1,170 in 2000 at 6.8 percent.

Southwick: 220 in 1990 at 2.9 percent of the population to 227 in 2000 at 2.6 percent.

Springfield: 11,562 in 1990 at 7.4 percent of the population to 12,159 in 2000 at 8.0 percent.

West Springfield: 1,512 in 1990 at 5.5 percent of the population to 3,034 in 2000 at 10.9 percent.

Westfield: 1,575 in 1990 at 4.1 percent of the population to 2,850 in 2000 at 7.1 percent.

Wilbraham: 640 in 1990 at 5.1 percent of the population to 564 in 2000 at 4.2 percent.

"This report makes it clear that immigrants are fundamental to the Commonwealth's future and that English language skills are a major dividing line in the opportunity to pursue the American dream," Bowles said.

 
 
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