More than half of all immigrants in the United States reside in just seven cities: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, San Diego, Houston, and San Francisco. A controversial issue is whether immigrants are a benefit or a burden to these areas. A 1997 National Academy of Sciences study reports that "immigrants add as much as $10 billion to the national economy each year," but "in areas with high concentrations of low-skilled, low-paid immigrants," they impose net costs on U.S.-born workers. This essay questions that finding.
Examining a range of economic variables for the eighty-five largest U.S. cities over the period 1980–1994, this essay finds that those cities with heavy concentrations of immigrants outperformed cities with few immigrants. Compared with low-immigrant cities, high-immigrant cities had double the job creation rate, higher per capita incomes, lower poverty rates, and 20 percent less crime. Unemployment rates, however, were unusually large in high-immigrant cities. These findings do not answer the critical questions of whether the immigrants cause the better urban conditions or whether benign urban conditions attract the immigrants. But the essay does refute the assertion that the economic decline of cities is caused by immigration; that assertion cannot be true because, with few exceptions, the U.S. cities in greatest despair today--Detroit, Saint Louis, Buffalo, Rochester, Gary--have virtually no immigrants.