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Immigrant Share Didn’t Rise For the First Time Since Recession

Summary:
President Trump campaigned against immigrants in 2016, and it appears that he managed a major victory. The Census Bureau released its American Community Survey (ACS) estimate of the U.S. population for July 2018 today, finding that immigrant share of the population—foreigners born abroad to noncitizens—remained flat from July 2017 to July 2018. As seen in Figure 1, this was the first time since the Great Recession in 2008 that ACS has found no increase in the foreign-born share. If the immigrant share had remained flat in 2018 because the total U.S. population jumped, it would be less of an issue, but that was not the case. Total population growth also fell in 2018, meaning that if the absolute number of immigrants had grown at the same rate, the immigrant share should have increased

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President Trump campaigned against immigrants in 2016, and it appears that he managed a major victory. The Census Bureau released its American Community Survey (ACS) estimate of the U.S. population for July 2018 today, finding that immigrant share of the population—foreigners born abroad to noncitizens—remained flat from July 2017 to July 2018. As seen in Figure 1, this was the first time since the Great Recession in 2008 that ACS has found no increase in the foreign-born share.

If the immigrant share had remained flat in 2018 because the total U.S. population jumped, it would be less of an issue, but that was not the case. Total population growth also fell in 2018, meaning that if the absolute number of immigrants had grown at the same rate, the immigrant share should have increased faster than it did in 2017. Figure 2 shows the net increase in the foreign-born population by year since 2006. It shows that again, only 2008 saw a smaller increase in the absolute size of the immigrant population. The rate of increase declined more than 70 percent from 2017 and from the prior five-year average.

While the ACS is more reliable for population estimates, the Census Bureau has also released estimates from the March Supplement to the Current Population Survey for each year since 1994. Before that, estimates come exclusively from the decennial censuses. Figure 3 shows those estimates. What is most remarkable about this graph is that the immigrant share of the U.S. population has barely grown at all since 2010.

Figure 4 shows the average percentage point change in immigrant share of the U.S. population by decade. As it shows, the immigrant share is growing the slowest of any decade since the 1960s. The 2000s saw the immigrant share grow twice as fast, and the 1990s saw it grow more than three times as fast.

Certainly, President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies have played a role in discouraging immigration from around the world. But his mere presence may have signaled to many immigrants that now was not the time to come or—more commonly—now was the time to give up on their American dream. Ultimately, with his accession to the White House, it was manifest that Congress would not enact immigration reform that would provide permanent status to the millions hoping for it. That reality may be reflected in these numbers.

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