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October 2005, Volume 12, Number 4

Census: Population, Poverty, Immigrants

Between April 2000 and July 2004, the US population rose from 281 million to 294 million, including 198 million whites, 41 million Hispanics, 39 million Blacks and 14 million Asians. The non-Hispanic white population, now two-thirds of US residents, will drop to one-half by 2050, according to US Census projections. Texas (just over 50 percent) joined Hawaii (77 percent), New Mexico (56 percent), and California (56 percent) as the fourth state in which minority groups, taken together, account for a majority of the population.

California's 36 million residents included 12 million Hispanics and five million Asians. Los Angeles county, with 10 million residents, included 4.6 million Hispanics and 1.4 million Asians, 60 percent. An analysis of third generation Mexican-Americans found that only 11 percent earned college degrees, compared to 38 percent of whites and 46 percent of Asian Americans.

There is much worry over the progress of the children of Mexican immigrants. About 25 percent of Mexican immigrants have high school diplomas, and three percent finished college. Over two-thirds of California children in families where neither parent has completed high school are Mexican-American. However, 86 percent of their US-born children graduate from high school and 12 percent from college.

Most western cities, reliant on water from far away, are more densely populated than eastern cities, which have large-lot suburbs. The Census reported that the urbanized area in and around Los Angeles is the most densely populated US place, more dense than the New York, Washington or Atlanta metro areas. In some cases, high density in the Los Angeles area is due to immigrants crowding into conventional housing. Of the 10 US municipalities that have an average of more than four people per household, nine are in sections of Los Angeles marked by garage conversions and back-yard sheds.

Maywood, one-square-mile in southeast Los Angeles County that was built for 10,000 people, is the densest city in California, with about 30,000 residents today. One homeowner was cited for putting four metal tool sheds from Home Depot in the backyard and renting them to newcomers for $150 a month each. Maywood schools have been officially overcrowded and operating on an emergency year-round schedule for the past 23 years.

The U.S. Census Bureau released its 2003 County Business Patterns report in August 2005, reporting that Los Angeles County had 235,000 businesses and 3.8 million workers, followed by Cook County, Illinois with 128,000 and 2.4 million, respectively.

In other parts of the US, planned communities are being developed on the fringes of urban areas. Unlike the 1950s "exurbs" of country estates for the wealthy, today's exurbs offer large homes that appeal to families willing to endure longer commutes in exchange for lower home prices. Eventually, clusters of homes are annexed to existing cities or become new cities, many of which are diverse. For example, in a Florida exurb development called New River, almost half of the buyers were in their 30s. They were 38 percent Hispanic, 24 percent white and 16 percent black, and 75 percent had children, making space and safety major concerns. The exurbs are heavily Republican.

How mobile are Americans? About one in 18 Americans changes counties each year, and one in 36 moves from one state to another.

Poverty. The Census reported that the median income of US households was $44,400 in 2004, down about four percent from its 1999 peak and unchanged from 2003. The median earnings of full-time workers employed year-round fell to $40,800 for men and to $31,200 for women.

The range in median incomes across counties with populations of 250,000 or more was almost four to one. Fairfax County, Virginia had the highest median household income in 2004, about $88,000, and Hildalgo county, Texas had the lowest, about $25,000.

The poverty line was $19,307 for a family of four in 2004, and 37 million Americans, 12.7 percent, had incomes below the line- poverty was at its lowest in 2000, when 32 million or 11.3 percent were poor. The earned income tax credit, which refunds $30 billion to working poor parents with children in the country's largest cash-transfer program, is not included in the pre-tax income used to calculate who is poor, raising the incomes of the working poor.

Some 45 million Americans did not have health insurance in 2004, according to the Census. However, up to 10 million of them may be eligible for or enrolled in Medicaid and other federal health care programs, reducing the number of those without coverage.

Labor Force. The Current Population Survey asks whether workers are US- or foreign-born. In 2004, there were 21.4 million foreign-born persons in the US labor force, 14.5 percent of the total work force of 148 million. Between 2002 and 2004, the foreign-born labor force rose by 1.2 million, accounting for about half of US labor force growth.

About the same percentage of US- and foreign-born residents 16 and older are in the labor force, 66 percent. Foreign-born men had a higher labor force participation rate than US-born men in 2004, 81 compared to 72 percent, while foreign-born women had a lower LFPR, 54 compared to 60 percent. The biggest gap in LFPRs was for women with children under 18-- 58 percent of such foreign-born women were in the labor force, compared to 73 percent for US-born women.

Foreign-born full-time wage and salary workers earned an average of $502 a week in 2004, 76 percent as much as US-born workers, who averaged $662 a week. Foreign-born men earned 69 percent as much as US-born men, while the foreign-born women in the labor force earned 81 percent as much as similar US-born women.

Immigrants are about 12 percent of US residents, almost 15 percent of US workers, and 20 percent of US workers earning less than $9 an hour. An Urban Institute analysis of low-income immigrant-worker families that met several conditions, including having adults who worked at least 1,000 hours in 2001, an income that was less than twice the poverty level, and in which the highest earner was born abroad, found that 42 percent of immigrant-headed families were low-income, compared to 21 percent of families with US-born heads of household.

Assuming that those who used tax preparers got Earned Income Tax Credits, about 68 percent of immigrant-headed families and 83 percent of families with US-born heads of household got EITC benefits. One reason for the gap in EITC benefits is that 30 percent of foreign-born workers are believed to be unauthorized, which makes them ineligible for the largest US means-tested cash assistance program.

Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies estimated that up to 60 percent of the net additional workers between 2000 and 2004 were immigrants who arrived after 2000. According to the CLMS, the number of new immigrant workers rose by 2.2 million to 2.4 million, while the number of native-born workers and established immigrants in the US labor force declined. Three sectors absorbed 80 percent of the newcomers, construction and manufacturing (28 percent), health, education and business services (26 percent), and hospitality and service industries (25 percent).

Teen employment is falling, and CLMS economist Andrew Sum believes that the reason is more immigrant workers. About 37 percent of teens were in the labor force in 2005, down from 45 percent in 2000. Sum says that the household CPS survey reports 3.7 million more workers employed between 2000 and 2004, but the payroll survey finds only 3.1 million more jobs; he believes that the difference represents workers employed off the books. Sum says that employers prefer immigrants to teens because they are more likely to work full time and less likely to complain.

The Wall Street Journal on August 18, 2005 reported a global shortage of mining workers, noting that a high injury rate, locations in rural or remote areas, and the industry's cyclic nature discourage many young workers from going into mining. With commodity prices at record highs, some firms are raising wages and improving benefits to attract workers, the normal reaction that economists expect. Training is required for many mining jobs, but training programs were cut back during the industry's last slump, making it hard to add immediately to the supply of trained miners.

In 2004, the average income of workers in the lowest fifth of US earners ranked from low to high was $10,265; $26,440 in the second-fifth; $44,450 in the third-fifth; $70,100 in the fourth-fifth; $114,000 for those in the 80th to 95th percentile; and $264,400 for the top five percent of earners.

Welfare/Health. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act limited most able-bodied adults to five years of cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Instead of receiving assistance, recipients are supposed to work.

In West Virginia, the number of TANF recipients dropped about 75 percent, from almost 40,000 in 1995 to 10,000 in 2005 (the national caseload fell 50 percent), but research found that 75 percent of those dropped from the welfare rolls were jobless a year after losing cash payments because there were few jobs or the recipients had personal obstacles to finding and holding a job. Many of those who graduated from welfare to work did not earn an above-poverty level income.

Researchers say that the US is spending more on poor people than in the mid-1990s, but the focus of anti-poverty spending has shifted to medical care, food assistance and the earned income tax credit. One reason that fewer adults receive cash assistance is that the PRWORA required states to have 50 percent of adult TANF recipients work, and counted adults who no longer received cash assistance as "graduates" who moved off the rolls even if they were not employed. Many states required all cash recipients to re-apply for cash benefits, made the application process cumbersome, and denied or delayed aid to those who made mistakes on complex application forms.

Medicare and Medicaid were key elements of the War on Poverty, but both were enacted over objections from doctors worried about government influence on their autonomy and incomes. Medicare covers Americans 65 and older regardless of income, and the result was a flood of federal funds that expanded the health care system. Medicare spends about $300 billion a year to provide care for 42 million people, an average of $7,100 each.

Immigrants received an average $1,140 in health care services in 1998, while US-born residents received $2,565. Immigrants accounted for 10 percent of US residents and consumed eight percent of total health services, including 18 percent of services associated with the uninsured.

Sum, Andrew. Et al. 2004. Foreign Immigration and the Labor Force of the US. Northeastern University Mimeo.