Mine may be a singular indignation, or so it seems, but let’s go back to Allegheny County Council’s exercise in immigration policy last week. I already pointed out that the Pittsburgh region in comparison may be the place least impacted by immigrants in the entire nation.
But what about comparing today with the past. We can argue over decimal points, but let’s say the region is 3% foreign born today, and most of that is comprised of folks who actually came here decades ago or who are students or young professionals that I speculate are not the intended focus of this new law. As I calculated it's 1% or so of the population foreign born and who arrived in the last decade and I suspect the bulk of those are students or related folks. Take those out and the basis point that is left seems to be who is targeted by this new law.
What I don’t get is why is this an issue now? Put another way, what did they do in the past when there actually were real immigration flows into the region.
So here is a page of data from the 1910 Census for Allegheny County. What does it say? Basically it shows that of the county’s 1.02 million population at the time (which is not that much below what the population is today), literally 26.7% were foreign born. Ponder that a moment. 26.7%. They also used to track what was called “foreign stock”, which you would be classified as if you were born here, but had a parent born elsewhere. This seems to have been intended to capture the children who might have just been born here but were in families of first generation immigrants. Foreign stock made up another 33.7% of the population. So at the time, folks observing their neighbors would count over 60% of them as foreign born or foreign stock.
Basically at the time the foreign born population was an order of magnitude or more greater than today. When it comes to flows of new workers into the regional economy, my SWAG is that flows back then I bet are 20-30 or more times whatever the flow is today and I am being extremely conservative in that guess. Those numbers actually only reflect the foreign born white population. There not being much consideration at the time for foreign born black population. Asians had their own tabulation and the 1910 Census did count 333 Chinese, 32 Indian and 37 Japanese residents here. I guess all were presumed to be foreign born since there was no attempt to distinguish among native and foreign born Asians. I really want to know what the story was with the 37 Japanese residents at the time, but I have no clue. That is a history paper for someone.
You can dig further. At the time if you look at the citizen status of the foreign born population in the county in 1910
.. Just under 67K were classified as 'alien', while over 14K were considered 'unknown'. Hmm, I wonder what paperwork they had?
Could it be that economic conditions are so much worse now to heighten concern over job displacement caused by so many immigrants here today? There were many recessions, some nearly called depressions, in that period and I am pretty sure there were local workers impacted by the immigration flows that did not abate. Yet we survived.
Gotta have a picture. This was a graphic produced by the census at the time and is at least proof that maps pre-date GIS. Here is a map of the county by county incidence of the foreign born, and foreign stock, populations in Pennsylvania by county.