Here’s a dirty secret: Great nations rest on a great common culture. I say it’s a secret because it’s become almost taboo to discuss this historic fact; progressives across the globe have turned decisively against national legacies, and it’s progressives who by and large dictate mainstream culture. But if the Democratic Party wants to avoid further electoral disasters like those in Virginia, Long Island and elsewhere, it would do well to relearn the obvious truth that a common culture that binds us is not only good and necessary, but popular.
A major shift in the demographic evolution of America is occurring, largely out of sight in the national media, but profoundly affecting communities throughout the Heartland.
The 20 state region, which extends between the Appalachians and the Rockies, has for generations been largely unaffected by the massive movement of people from abroad that has so dramatically transformed the great metropolitan regions of coastal America.
In the national media, the Heartland represented a region, as the New York Times described it, as ’not far from forsaken,’ a depopulating place where the American dream has come and gone. Others have seen the region as an unreconstructed mecca for intolerance, one that had few immigrants and poor race relations and seems destined to suffer for it. As one professor at Vanderbilt suggested recently, the region was “dying from whiteness” and that its “politics of racial resentment is killing America’s heartland.”
Perhaps it is time to change that narrative. Over the past decade, the Heartland’s share of the foreign-born population has risen from 23.5 percent in 2010 to 31.1 percent in 2019. This shift can be seen in many Heartland communities, some such as Louisville, Columbus and Nashville, have seen their immigrant populations swell more than 40 percent from 2010 to 2019, often helping to reverse generations of demographic decline. They are now growing their foreign-born populations faster than such historic immigrant hubs as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.
The reasons include many factors also seen in our previous studies on entrepreneurs and millennials; lower costs, economic growth and better access to good schools. Perhaps the most underappreciated may be the spirit of friendliness that has been cited by the vast majority of the people we interviewed. For people who have migrated great distances, and sometimes at personal risk, the reception in the Heartland—sometimes described as a hotbed of nativist and xenophobic attitudes—often instead has been both warm and inspiring.
“Each immigrant comes with different potential and dreams,” observes Ahmed Elkhady, a half Palestinian, half Egyptian resident in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, known as the Motorcycle Imam, who works with underprivileged children. “I have big hope in this first migrant generation. They come with unique perspectives from all over the world. They come to grow in a new place they get to help create.” This shift in migration is good not only for the Heartland but also for the nation. Spreading new talent to areas that need it, it also takes the pressure off already overcrowded areas. For too long, essentially since the 1970s, the Heartland, with the notable exception of Texas, was on the sidelines in the nation’s demographic transition, leaving a large part of the country facing much slower population growth and rapid aging. It is on the sidelines no longer.
Download the full report here (PDF).
Heartland Forward is a non-partisan organization that seeks to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth. Learn more at HeartlandForward.org.
Image credit: Heartland Forward, from the report
Over the past two decades America’s largest urban areas enjoyed a heady renaissance, driven in large part by the in-migration of immigrants, minorities and young people. But even as a big-city dominated press corps continued to report on gentrification and displacement, those trends began to reverse themselves in recent years as all three of those populations started heading in ever larger numbers to suburbs, sprawling sunbelt boomtowns and smaller cities and out of the biggest ones.
That shift preceded the COVID pandemic, but has rapidly accelerated with the expansion of remote work, which has undermined the economic basis for high-end urban and post-industrial economies. Meanwhile, the severe lockdowns Democratic governors and mayors favored devastated the service and small business economies that had provided sustenance to immigrant and minority entrepreneurs and workers.
The same “canaries in the coal mine” that spurred America’s urban renaissance have been leaving its big cities in growing numbers since 2014, notes demographer Wendell Cox. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have all begun to lose population while people have flocked to new employment hubs like Austin, Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus and Nashville that have led the way in terms of both overall new jobs and high-end business and professional service jobs.
Nowhere is this shift more evident than with immigrants. The share of the foreign born settling in big coastal “gateways” has plunged from 44 percent in 2010 to barely 35 percent in 2019. Foreign-born populations, notes Cox in research for the think tank Heartland Forward, stagnated or even declined in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago as they surged in Houston (over 25 percent growth), Dallas-Ft Worth (30 percent) Charlotte (nearly 40 percent) and Nashville (a remarkable 44 percent).
Houston, in fact, is now the most diverse major metropolitan area in the country. In 1960, Harris County, which includes Houston and many of its suburbs, was 70 percent white, non-Hispanic and 20 percent African American. Today, the county’s total population is 31 percent white and non-Hispanic, 42 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Black and 8 percent Asian. The share of foreign-born Houstonians now approaches one-fourth of the population—almost twice the average for the nation’s 50 most populous metros.
More surprising still has been the equally rapid move of immigrants to smaller cities such as Fayetteville, Ark., Knoxville, Tenn,; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Springfield, Mo., and Fargo, N.D. The fastest growth in foreign-born populations has been in areas with traditionally low immigrant concentrations. Where the foreign-born population grew by 10 percent nationally in the last decades, in states like Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and the Dakotas it has expanded by 30 percent.
Racial minorities, too, are heading increasingly to the sunbelt boom towns, the south and to smaller cities. The surges in Latino, Asian and African American growth are not in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or the Bay Area, according to an analysis by Wendell Cox for the Urban Reform Institute, but in Atlanta, Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Again, economics is a key factor. Middle-class job creation has been generally stronger in these communities and, due to less regulation and lower taxes, costs are lower. African-American real incomes in Atlanta are more than $60,000, compared to $36,000 in San Francisco and $37,000 in Los Angeles. The median income for Latinos in Virginia Beach-Norfolk is $69,000, compared to $43,000 in Los Angeles, $47,000 in San Francisco and $40,000 in New York City. The highest Asian median household incomes are in Raleigh, Jackson, Fayetteville (AR-MO) and Austin.
Read the rest of this piece at Daily Beast.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
America has been lazily divided by pundits into red and blue states, as if there weren’t constant movement of people between them. Fortunately, reality is a lot more purple — and hopeful — as immigrants, people of color and millennials reshape parts of America by voting with their feet and moving.
These demographic groups are migrating from the big coastal cities to the suburbs, the interior cities, the South and even parts of the Midwest. And in the process, these newcomers change both their new homes and are also changed by them.