Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Yin and Yang of immigration

I was actually wondering last week when all the consternation over the immigration law in Arizona would spark some copycat legislation here in Pennsylvania.  Didn't take long it seems.

The thing is...  we can quibble over a decimal point or whether there exists some uber-hidden new wave of undocumented immigrants in town...  but no matter how far you want to push it, the scale of recent immigration into Pennsylvania, especially into Western Pennsylvania, is several orders of magnitude smaller than whatever is going on in Arizona.  I would argue that the proportion of the local population that is foreign born currently is about as low as it has ever been since the day George Washington showed up on the banks of the Mon.

I'm too lazy to redo this, or update it a bit, but I did this chart some years ago which pretty much tells the tale.

Yes, we can banter about what has happened since 2000 and sure there is growth in some groups... there almost has to be some increase in that international immigration into the region could not conceivably have gone lower than it has been in recent decades.  We are still talking about the region as a far outlier as a place that has been attracting and retaining international migrants. Some bring up students which have a big international component of course... but remember, when we are talking about migration we are talking about permanent, or at least intended to be permanent, relocation for the most part. All changes in trend have to start somewhere, but whether we are even approaching or beyond an inflection point remains to be seen. 

What I don't quite get is that the politicians from areas with the very lowest rate of recent immigration propose some of the most anti-immigrant policies. Maybe that makes sense in a counterintuitive sort of way. I am not just talking about Rep. Metcalf, whose district is about as immigrant-free as it gets, but remember the even more bizarre case of Altoona which even made the NYTimes for it's curious efforts to bar it's nonexistant immigrants from ever coming there.  (as a sidebar, anyone notice the PG appears to have hired Sean H. the longtime local NYTimes stringer in town.).

I honestly get a call or two a month from someone (journalists near and far mostly, but sometimes other folks) on immigration in Pittsburgh.... or the lack thereof. The best question I ever had when I explained how low international immigration has been here in recent decades was a NY based journalist who asked quite seriously "Who drives the taxis?".   I just keep on file a stack of references on local immigration stats, commentary and analysis to feed out.  The basic truth is that we are way off the chart in terms of recent immigration compared to just about anywhere else in the nation.  All of the ethnic diversity that we are usually proud of here in Pittsburgh mostly reflects a spike in immigration that is now literally a century in the past.  Yes, a whole century!!  I have a scan of the 1910 census page for the city of Pittsburgh and it shows 40% of the city's population being of "foreign stock" which would include the foreign born and their minor children even if the children had been born here I think.  But 40%!!  That number is today a decimal place, and a small decimal at that, in most of the region. 

So I do get it... the fact that the most immigrant-free areas spawn the most anti-immigrant rhetoric probably makes a certain bit of sense.  But still...............


Anonymous MH said...

"Who drives the taxis?"

Based on yesterday, people who think nothing of blocking the curb lane on Forbes at Atwood so they can send a text message.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing exposes the role cultural resentments play in politics like the 'debate' about immigration. Biggest red herring to come down the pike since the Music Man warned the citizens of River City about pool. Personally, I blame the Irish for stirring up all the trouble. You know how those people are.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

Also, you want immigration: deregulate the cabs in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 1:55:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I thought I was saying I would take the over.. All them French folks in the fort were not born here. Even including Native Americans at the time I would say it was over the 3-4% of today... probably by a decent shot. All gets into some meta questions of what 'foreign' would even have meant at the time.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 2:12:00 PM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

Okay. I guess that I misinterpretted what you said. We agree.

As for meta questions, I was assuming that all anglos in July 1755 were 'foreign'. But, now that I think about it, I bet that a substantial portion of the French could have been born in New France--which I further suppose still included this part of the World in July 1755. Heck, even His Excellency himself was born in Virginia--which also laid claim to this corner of the world in July 1755.

Ah, heck. It's all too much to think about. Let's just mine the border from the Pacific to the Gulf and be done with it. Right?!

(I'm not serious).

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 3:55:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Being named "Braddock" is working out about as well now as then.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 4:29:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Too soon?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 8:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daryl Metcalfe is simply pandering to the Limbaugh-worshipers in his base.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 6:30:00 PM  

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