Rust Belt cities look to attract immigrants to help turn things around

Rust Belt cities have struggled for decades but are now welcoming seeking out immigrants:

Other struggling cities are trying to restart growth by luring enterprising immigrants, both highly skilled workers and low-wage laborers. In the Midwest, similar initiatives have begun in Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Lansing, Mich., as well as Detroit, as it strives to rise out of bankruptcy. In June, officials from those cities and others met in Detroit to start a common network.

“We want to get back to the entrepreneurial spirit that immigrants bring,” said Richard Herman, a lawyer in Cleveland who advises cities on ideas for development based on immigration.

The new welcome for immigrants reflects a broader shift in public opinion, polls show, as the country leaves behind the worst of the recession. More Americans agree that immigrants, even some in the country illegally, can help the economy, giving impetus to Congressional efforts to overhaul an immigration system that many say is broken.

Concerns about uncontrolled illegal immigration, which produced strict curbs in Arizona and other parts of the country, have not been an issue in Dayton. Officials here say their goal is to invite legal immigrants. But they make no effort to pursue residents without legal status, if they are otherwise law-abiding.

Read on for more information on what happened in Dayton, Ohio which has welcomed thousands of Turkish immigrants. This will be worth watching in the long run.

Three other thoughts:

1. The article doesn’t say much about this but recent immigration debates have been marked by two opposites: more opposition to less educated and skilled immigrants and more interest in educated, wealthier immigrants. Perhaps it doesn’t matter much in Dayton.

2. A student asked me recently where Middle Easterners fit into typical American definitions of race and ethnicity. For example, where do they fit in Census categories? The article suggests the immigrant residents haven’t encountered much opposition in Dayton but they do occupy an unknown sort of racial and ethnic space. (Also see discussions in Europe about Turkish immigrants as well as whether Turkey should be allowed in the European Union.)

3. This article hints at a broader reality: population growth in plenty of places, including a number of suburbs as well as the United States as a whole, has depended heavily on immigration.

Cities that are losing population

The list of the top seven American cities in population loss (measured as a percentage of total population) is not surprising: New Orleans, Flint, Cleveland, Buffalo, Dayton, Pittsburgh, and Rochester (NY). And outside of New Orleans, why these cities have lost population is also not difficult to figure out: a loss of manufacturing jobs.

But a list like this raises some questions about cities:

1. Is it that unusual for cities to lose population? If cities can boom, as these cities did during the industrial boom, why can’t they also go bust?

2. The headline on the article is misleading: “US cities running out of people.” There are still plenty of people in these communities – what is unusual is that the population is declining.

3. Is there a point where these population losses will stabilize? I always wonder this about cities – some people stay because there are still some jobs, particularly medical, municipal, and service jobs available.

4. Is there something the federal government could do to help these communities reverse these trends? Is there a public interest in not letting cities like these slowly die?

5. Measuring the city’s population is perhaps not the best way to go about it. How have the metropolitan populations changed? Are there still people in the region? This would make a difference.