Mixed bag or melting pot? U.S. population remains diverse

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WASHINGTON – Americans of different ethnic backgrounds may like to think of themselves as creating a unique melting pot, but ethnic divisions remain, particularly in regions attracting immigrants.

The latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the U.S. population continues to grow more ethnically diverse. But the degree of diversity varies sharply by region, according to demographics expert William H. Frey, State University of New York.

A house divided. “Although we are diverse, we are not a melting pot,” said Frey. “The United States has broad regions that are shaped by different consumer patterns and attitudes. There are sharp divisions occurring across regions of the country.”

According to Frey, Census figures released this year show a concentration of white and black residents in relatively low-density suburban neighborhoods throughout the “new Sunbelt,” a large group of states in the South and Southwest.

By contrast, slower-growing states in the Heartland consist mainly of older, white, more conservative residents.

These areas are not attracting immigrants or domestic migrants, he noted. The only states with a high concentration of immigrants are New York, California, Florida, Texas and Illinois.

In some of these “immigrant magnet” states, Frey said as much as 68 percent of the residents are foreign-born.

Migrating from cities. Although some industry analysts have speculated that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and outside Washington might “scare people” out of cities, Frey noted that many middle-income Americans were already either residing on the urban fringe or were moving there.

“They want to be in a more small-scale environment,” he said.

He pointed out that while traditional households in the middle-income range tend to be driving suburban residential markets, the downtown markets tend to be drawing more nontraditional households, including young professionals, immigrants, and single parents, as well as more wealthy empty-nesters.

“They are less skittish about cities,” he said.

Trends to watch. In addition to substantial differences in ethnic diversity by region, the demographic statistics suggest that in the years ahead, the retiree segment of the U.S. population will be dominated by whites, while the workforce segment will be far more diverse, Frey said.

Although the census figures show some regions to be more diverse than others, all regions have received an economic boost from the immigrants living in them, said Michael Miles, partner, Guggenheim Real Estate in New York City.

“If the events of Sept. 11 change how open we are (in terms of U.S. immigration policy), if the growth in immigration stops, this could have powerful implications,” Miles said. “I hope we do not overreact.”

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