WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Today’s Indiana immigrant likely is Mexican or Asian, under 40, a blue-collar laborer and not as proficient in English as foreign-born people who came to the U.S. even 20 years ago, according to a Purdue University study.
“The immigrant population is young, it’s growing and it is increasingly diverse,” said Brigitte Waldorf, a Purdue agricultural economist and the study’s lead researcher. “It used to be most Indiana immigrants were from Europe, but not anymore.”
Purdue’s study, “Immigrants in Indiana: Where They Live, Who They Are and What They Do,” provides a demographic snapshot of the state’s foreign-born population.
Findings are based on data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses and the 2006 American Community Survey.
The study can be downloaded at www.agecon.purdue.edu/extension/pubs/paer/.
The research team, which included agricultural economics graduate students Uris Baldos, Tani Lee and Delphine Simon — each a first- or second-generation immigrant — found Indiana’s immigrant population jumped from 94,263 to 263,607 in the 16-year study period and foreign-born people made up about 4 percent of the state’s population in 2006.
Researchers also found Mexicans represented 46 percent and Asians more than 30 percent of Indiana’s immigrant population in 2006 and about 75 percent of the immigrant growth was concentrated in 10 Indiana counties.
The Hoosier state ranked number 10 nationally in immigrant population growth between 2000 and 2006, said Waldorf, who hails from Germany. That’s a dramatic shift from a few decades ago.
“Moving to Indiana is a new choice immigrants are making. It didn’t use to be that way,” she said. “For a long while Indiana was at the bottom of the hierarchy of preferred destinations for immigrants.”
Changes in immigration laws that encouraged more non Europeans to come to America and greater job opportunities have attracted more foreign-born people to Indiana, Waldorf said.
“About three in 10 immigrants were employed in the manufacturing sector in 2006, with most of those working in industries related to motor vehicles, equipment and metal processing,” she said.
“Many immigrants also moved to rural counties and work in agriculture or meat processing plants. A good example is Daviess County, where there is a large immigrant community working for the Perdue Farms turkey processing plant.”
Counties with sizable urban areas and/or universities comprise the largest immigrant populations.
The 10 counties with the highest percentage net increase in immigrant population between 1990 and 2000 included Tippecanoe, 8.2 percent; Elkhart, 7.1 percent; Monroe, 5.4 percent; Lake, 5.3 percent; Noble, 4.9 percent; Marion and St. Joseph, 4.6 percent each; Allen and Hamilton, 4 percent each; and Bartholomew, 3.8 percent.
Immigrants made up 71.2 percent of Lake County’s total population growth from 1990 to 2000, the state’s highest percentage, the study indicated.
Most Indiana immigrants are middle-aged or younger, with nearly 45 percent living in the U.S. five years or fewer in 2006.
As such, many are still dealing with cultural and language challenges, Simon said.
“English proficiency is related to length of stay,” Simon said. “In the 2006 data we saw an increase in new immigrants, compared with an older census where immigrants had been here for a longer time. In some cases the newer immigrants haven’t totally adjusted to their new home.”
The language barrier is the most important issue Indiana must address if the state’s immigrant population continues rising, the study said. The study takes no position on the immigration issue itself.
“Language is the key and every immigration country has recognized that,” Waldorf said.
Immigrants who successfully integrate into American society often pursue citizenship, which is beneficial to all, Lee said.