‘Major Demographic Force in Philadelphia': Immigrants Up 69% in City Since 2000, According to Pew Report

A new report highlights the highs and lows for immigrants and their children in the region. For instance, an immigrant is slightly more likely than a U.S.-born resident to have a college degree — and significantly more likely to have 'little schooling.'

Immigrants in Philadelphia now make up a larger share of the city's population than at any point since 1940, and they defy stereotypes across economic, educational and cultural spectrums, according to a comprehensive new report by Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative.

More than 232,000 foreign-born people currently call Philadelphia home, up nearly 70 percent since 2000, Pew found. If children of first-generation immigrants are included, the number jumps to more than 330,000 people.

These immigrants comprise nearly 15 percent of Philadelphia's total population and 19 percent of all workers, according to the report. The fastest-growing group of people born outside the United States came from Africa but the largest groups came from Asia and the Americas, including the Caribbean. 

They have become "a major driver of population growth" in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, according to the report's author, Tom Ginsberg. For every immigrant living in the city, two live in the region outside Philadelphia, the report said.

To read the full report and context from Pew, click here.

"The degree to which immigrants have fueled Philadelphia’s population resurgence is striking,” Ginsberg said. "By taking a closer look at this expanding demographic, Pew’s research shows the potential they have to shape the city’s economic and social landscape in ways that present both opportunities and challenges."

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has repeatedly said the economic and cultural advantages of having a large immigrant population are reason enough to keep Philly as a sanctuary city. In touting the power of diversity, Kenney said that his own ancestry, which is Irish, was once viewed as problematic by U.S.-born citizens but is now considered commonplace. 

The battle over Philadelphia's status as a sanctuary city peaked Wednesday when a federal judge ruled against the White House's efforts to cut off grant money. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson cited public remarks made by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump accusing immigrants of committing more crimes than native-born citizens.

Those statements “are inaccurate as applied to Philadelphia," Baylson said.

But the Department of Justice offered a different take in its response to the ruling, saying "is a victory for criminal aliens in Philadelphia, who can continue to commit crimes in the City knowing that its leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country."

In its wide-ranging findings, the 39-page Pew report also offered insight into the economic influence of foreign-born residents. 

The median household income of immigrant families is almost $40,000, close to that of Philadelphians born in the United States. Meanwhile, the poverty rate among immigrants, about 24 percent, is actually slightly below that of native-born residents. However, the number of immigrants living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than native-born citizens.

The diversity of immigrants in Philadelphia is on full display in their education levels:

-- About three in 10 adult immigrants have college degrees, a slightly higher share than U.S.-born residents.

-- About three in 10 adult immigrants had what the report describes as "little schooling," which is a significantly higher share than among natives.

In other sectors of the economy, like the labor force, immigrant involvement grew since 2000. As of 2016, there were 140,000, or about 19 percent, in the civilian labor force. That's up from 11 percent at the turn of the century.

And like the effects of immigrants on the city's overall population growth during the last two decades, foreign-born residents accounted for most of the labor force growth over that time period, the report found.

In Philadelphia, they increased by around 66,000, or 89 percent, while natives in the labor force rose by around 28,000, or just 5 percent," the report said of increased numbers of working immigrants. "In the suburbs, immigrant workers grew at a similar pace while natives in the labor force actually decreased in number."

Much of the data used in the report is based on Census figures, including the American Community Survey. Other sources include a poll conducted by Pew in 2016 and federal agencies.

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