Population in the US: as small towns shrink, is immigration the answer?

Similar to the situation in many countries:

In late October, the angle of an adjustable ramp connecting the shore of the Mississippi River to a casino riverboat made it easy to see how low water levels had dropped in south-east Missouri. The downward slope also resembled the population decline in the surrounding town, Caruthersville, over the last decade.

The Century Casino Caruthersville provides a crucial source of employment for the town, which lost many of its local businesses and a Walmart, which closed after 42 years in 2019. But two of its decks were closed because of the drought. Even when the river returns to a more normal level and the whole boat reopens, the fortunes of the town may not change.

“Walmart hurt us when it came and it hurt us when it went out,” said Sue Grantham, the mayor of Caruthersville. “You’re not gonna get those mom and pop shops back again.”

Parts of rural America like Caruthersville are emblematic of a larger trend in the United States: a population that in 2021 grew 0.1%, the slowest rate since the founding of the country, according to the US Census Bureau.

Demographers and sociologists who study the trend point to a number of factors, including low fertility, the Covid-19 pandemic and a significant decrease in immigration due to the pandemic and restrictions introduced by the former president Donald Trump.

And while the threat posed by the virus has waned and the birthrate increased slightly in 2021 after falling for more than a decade, if a growing population is necessary to have a healthy US economy and way of life – which not all researchers agree upon – then the country will probably have to rely on immigration.

“Immigration is sort of the extra safety valve we have for population growth in the United States,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “It’s unaffected by the ageing of our current population because immigrants tend to be younger, and they also have children, which makes the population younger.”

But immigration remains a divisive topic, with Republicans viewing tightening restrictions on illegal immigration as a greater priority than Democrats, and Democrats more supportive of legal immigration than Republicans, according to polls.

But Social Security, a programme which people across the political spectrum support, will depend on contributions from a younger labor force.

“A lot of the people who are part of [Trump’s] base will suffer the biggest negative consequences if the contributions to Social Security and Medicare and a lot of other federal and state-level programmes” evaporate because of a diminished young labor force, Frey said.

While 2021 saw a record-low increase in population rate, it was not a significant outlier in terms of the last decade. Thirty-seven states grew more slowly in the 2010s than in the previous decade and three states saw population decreases, according to the 2020 census. There were 330 million people in the US that year, a 7.4% increase from 2010, which amounts to the second lowest decade-long increase since the government first conducted the study in 1790.

The fertility rate in the United States has also decreased significantly in recent decades. During the post-second world war baby boom between 1945 and 1964, there were more than 100 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, the number was 56.6.

The trend was particularly evident in rural areas, which saw their population decrease over the last decade for the first time, according to a University of New Hampshire report. Meanwhile, in most of the country’s biggest cities, the population grew at a faster rate in the most recent decade compared with the prior one, a Brookings Institution report states.

Pemiscot County, which includes Caruthersville, saw its population decrease by 15% over the last decade, which was among the sharpest drops in the state, according to a University of Missouri report. During the 1950s, there were more than 8,000 people living in Caruthersville; in 2020, there were about 5,500, the census reports.

Grantham, the mayor, grew up in southern Mississippi. Her mother had a flower shop, which Grantham worked at in the mornings before school. Grantham then attended the University of Mississippi and became an elementary school teacher, but she missed the flowers, so in 1977 she bought Joplin Floral Company in Caruthersville and moved north.

Grantham then watched how parts of the area wilted. In 1991, Brown Shoe Co, one of the largest shoe manufacturers in the country, closed four facilities in rural Missouri, including a warehouse in Caruthersville.

″Style trends in women’s shoes are shifting to more casual shoes and those are best obtained overseas,” a spokesperson for the company, which is now called Caleres and based in St Louis, told the Associated Press.

Local farms also gradually needed fewer people due to technological advances, Grantham said. “It’s a big part of why we don’t have that rush into town and all those people here because there were not jobs,” said Grantham, who in 2020 sold her business, which remains open.

The size of families has decreased too. Grantham was one of six children; none of the next generation had more than three kids. “You can’t provide for six children hardly today,” said Grantham, a 73-year-old mother of two.

Women are also waiting longer to have children. And the number of unintended pregnancies dropped to an all-time low in recent years, according to the Brookings Institution.

“More women are in the labor force than ever before,” said Joseph Chamie, a demographer and former director of the United Nations Population Division. “Delaying childbirth, delaying marriage … and when you delay, you often have fewer children.”

Among the younger generations from places like Caruthersville, there has also been a drive to move to urban areas because there are more opportunities for work and socializing.

The poverty rate in Caruthersville is 29%; in St Louis, it’s 20%; and in St Louis county, it’s 9.1%, according to the census bureau.

Wade Mansfield, 53, started Grizzly Jig Company, a crappie fishing supply business, in 1991 in Caruthersville with his father. The company employs 14 people and has managed to stay afloat despite competition from Bass Pro Shop and Amazon, and technological challenges due to its rural location. Most of its business comes from online sales, Mansfield said.

“We found a niche just like Mack’s Prairie Wings,” which specializes in waterfowl hunting, Mansfield said. “Instead of focusing on the big pie, we focused on one sliver, which was the crappie industry.”

In spite of his company’s success, Mansfield does not expect his two older daughters, who live in college towns in Mississippi, to return to Caruthersville. His youngest daughter is in high school.

Women are more likely to leave rural areas than men, the census bureau reports.

The country’s urban population increased 8.8% over the last decade, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

“I think if I had all boys, it would be a little different just because of the hunting and fishing [opportunities in south-east Missouri]”, Mansfield said. “The girls want to go to movies, go out to eat [and shop].”

But big cities have also seen their annual growth rates slow over the last decade, and from July 2020 to July 2021 large cities saw a 1% population decline, according to the Brookings Institution. Suburbs continued to grow during the pandemic, though at a slower rate than a decade earlier. Over the last decade, the metro areas that saw the largest increases were in the Sun Belt, including Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Meanwhile, cities such as New York and Los Angeles saw their population decrease significantly during the pandemic after large increases a decade earlier. Cities saw an unusual population gain at the start of the 2010s, as millennials continued to live at home due to the Great Recession; during the pandemic, some people fled cities because they wanted to avoid the tight quarters and public transportation due to the threat posed by the virus, Frey explained.

“I think we’ll get back to somewhat more normal growth in cities than we have seen,” Frey said. “Nobody really knows at this point what the working-from-home trend is going to do.”

Immigration levels also remain an uncertainty. In Pemiscot County, a district in which 71% of voters supported Trump in 2020, Mexican immigrants have filled a variety of roles, and farmers have hired seasonal workers from South Africa, Grantham said.

“The Mexicans that are here are really, really good people. In fact, one of them used to keep my grandchild,” Grantham said.

Frey sees immigration as one of the solutions to the country’s ageing population. He sees the diminishing population as a worrisome trend. That’s not only because of the need for younger generations to contribute to Social Security but also because nursing homes and assisted living facilities will need workers, he said.

And a youthful population means more economic potential and innovation, Frey said.

But Chamie, the demographer and former UN population division director, said he is not “ringing alarm bells” over the trend. “Businesses want this growth. They want more labor. They want more consumption,” he said.

Entities such as the United States Chamber of Commerce “are always complaining about a high shortage of workers because they want to keep wages low, and that’s why they keep pressing for more immigration. I don’t see it necessarily that economic growth depends on population growth. You have many countries that are growing slowly, and their economies are growing.”

Leslie Root, a demographer at the University of Colorado Boulder, also does not see the declining fertility as a negative. That’s in part because of the reduced number of unintended pregnancies.

“We know that when people are having births that are intended, health outcomes for the parents and the babies are better,” she said. “Helping people to not have babies that they don’t mean to have is generally, from the public health perspective, a positive thing.”

As to what the declining population trend could mean for a town like Caruthersville, Grantham remains optimistic. The state recently removed a requirement for casinos to float, which means that Century Casinos plans to build a land-based facility in Caruthersville. The company also bought a nearby hotel, which it is renovating.

The comedian and actor Cedric the Entertainer, a Caruthersville native whose film Johnson Family Reunion was set there, has also bought land in his home town. His goal is to bring “more housing, more people and new industry”, he told a local news station.

Grantham thinks the town population could return to levels not seen in decades. “Reaching the levels of the 50s, 60s? If it keeps going, I think we could,” she said. “We’re not but 3,000 behind.”

Source: Population in the US: as small towns shrink, is immigration the answer?

A Shrinking Town at the Center of France’s Culture Wars

Of interest and not declining rural populations of course not unique to France:

A shrinking town set among cow pastures in Brittany seems an unlikely setting for France’s soul searching over immigration and identity.

The main square is named after the date in 1944 that local resistance fighters were rounded up by Nazi soldiers, many never seen again. It offers a cafe run by a social club, a museum dedicated to the Brittany spaniel and a hefty serving of rural flight — forlorn empty buildings, their grills pulled down and windows shuttered, some for decades.

So when town council members heard of a program that could renovate the dilapidated buildings and fill much-needed jobs such as nurses’ aides and builders by bringing in skilled refugees, it seemed like a winning lottery ticket.

“It hit me like lightning,” said Laure-Line Inderbitzin, a deputy mayor. “It sees refugees not as charity, but an opportunity.”

But what town leaders saw as a chance for rejuvenation, others saw as evidence of a “great replacement” of native French people that has become a touchstone of anger and anxiety, particularly on the hard right.

In no time, tiny Callac, a town of just 2,200, was divided, the focus of national attention and the scene of competing protests for and against the plan. Today it sits at the intersection of complex issues that have bedeviled France for many years: how to deal with mounting numbers of migrants arriving in the country and how to breathe new life into withering towns, before it is too late.

As in many towns across France, Callac’s population has been in slow decline since the end of the Trente Glorieuses, the 30-year postwar growth stretch when living standards and wages rose. Today, around half the people who remain are retirees. The biggest employer is the nursing home.

A wander around downtown reveals dozens of empty storefronts, where florists, dry-cleaners and photo studios once stood. The town’s last dental office announced in July it was closing — the stress of continually turning new patients away, when her patient list topped 9,000, was too much for Françoise Méheut.

She stopped sleeping, she burst into tears over the dental chair and she turned to antidepressants before finally deciding to retire early.

“It’s a catastrophe,” Dr. Méheut said. “I have the impression of abandoning people.”

“I am selling, and no one is buying,” she added of her business. “If there was a dentist among the refugees, I would be thrilled.”

While many in town say there are no jobs, the council did a survey and found the opposite — 75 unfilled salaried jobs, from nursing assistants to contractors, despite the local 18 percent unemployment rate.

The council still hopes to carry out its plan in cooperation with the Merci Endowment Fund, an organization created by a wealthy Parisian family that had made its fortune in high-end children’s clothing and wanted to give back.

In 2016, the matriarch of the family volunteered to host an Afghan refugee in the family mansion near the Eiffel Tower. Her three sons, seeing the joy he brought to their mother’s life and the talents he offered, wanted to expand the idea broadly.

“The idea is to create a win-win situation,” said the eldest son, Benoit Cohen, a French filmmaker and author who wrote a book about the experience called “Mohammad, My Mother and Me.”

“They will help revitalize the village.”

The Merci project has proposed handpicking asylum seekers, recruiting for skills as well as a desire to live in the countryside. Then, the Cohens promise to develop a wraparound program to help them assimilate, with local French courses and apartments in refurbished buildings.

The plan also called for new community spaces and training programs for all — locals and refugees together — something that most excited Ms. Inderbitzin, the project’s local champion on the council and a teacher in the local middle school.

The town has more than 50 nonprofit clubs and associations, including one that runs the local cinema, and another that delivers food to hungry families in town.

“Social development for all — that’s in Callac’s genes,” said Ms. Inderbitzin. “It’s a virtuous circle. They could bring lots of energy, culture, youth.”

Not everyone is as excited at that prospect. A petition launched by three residents opposing the project has more than 10,000 signatures — many from far beyond Callac..

But even in town, some grumble about lack of consultation or transparency. They worry Callac will lose its Frenchness and will trade its small-town tranquillity for big-city problems. Others question the motives of a rich family in Paris meddling in their rural home.

“We aren’t lab rats. We aren’t here for them to experiment on,” said Danielle Le Men, a retired teacher in town who is starting a community group to stop the project, which she fears will bring “radical Islam” to the community.

Catching wind of the dispute, the right-wing anti-immigrant party Reconquest, run by the failed presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, organized a protest in September, warning the project would bring dangerous insecurity and complaining that it would introduce halal stores and girls in head scarves.

There was a time, she said, when she offered billiards and karaoke and kept the taps running late. But with the town’s youth departed, she recalibrated her closing time to match her remaining clientele’s schedule — 8 p.m.

“Why would we give jobs to outsiders?” she said. “We should help people here first.”

Standing on the street outside his small bar, which doubles as a cluttered antiques store, her neighbor, Paul Le Contellac, assessed the proposal from another angle.

His uncle married a refugee who had fled Spain with her family during the civil war and found shelter in this village. Later, when France was occupied by Nazi Germany, his grandmother harbored resistance fighters in her attic.

“This is a town that has always welcomed refugees,” said Mr. Le Contellac. “Callac is not ugly, but it’s not pretty either. It needs some new energy.”

While immigration may hold the potential to do that, the issue remains hotly contested, even while the migration crisis had been dampened by the pandemic.

Today, as the pandemic appears to wane, the numbers of asylum seekers arriving to France is climbing again, threatening to restore the issue’s volatility.

Since the height of the migration crisis several years ago, the government of President Emmanuel Macron has attempted to split the difference on its immigration policy.

On the one hand, it has aimed to deter asylum applicants by increasing police at the border and by cutting back some state services.

On the other, for those who are accepted as refugees, it has poured resources into French lessons and employment programs to ease their integration.

The government has also tried to disperse asylum seekers outside of Paris, where services are strained, housing is hard to find and large tent camps have sprung up.

Recently, Mr. Macron announced that he wanted to formalize the policy in a new immigration bill, sending asylum seekers from the dense urban centers, already plagued with social and economic problems, to the “rural areas, that are losing people.”

The plan is a lot like that being put in place already in Callac, which, paradoxically, has been receiving refugee families since 2015, about 40 people at present, with little or no notice, like many small French towns.

Mohammad Ebrahim heard the noise of the warring protests from his living room window, but had no idea what the commotion was about — certainly not about him, his wife and four children, who arrived a year ago.

Kurds who escaped Al Qaeda in Syria, they have felt nothing but welcome, flashing photos on their cellphones of community meals and celebrations they have been invited to. But the perks of village hospitality are offset by the logistics of living in the countryside without a car. Training, medical appointments, even regular French classes are all far away.

When he hears the plan to offer wraparound services and school in Callac, Mr. Ebrahim smiles broadly. “Then we could go to French class every day,” he said.

Callac may now prove to be a testing ground of whether a more structured approach can work and divisions be overcome.

“This became about French politics,” says Sylvie Lagrue, a local volunteer who drives refugees to doctor’s appointments and helps them set up their internet. “Now, everyone hopes this will quiet down, and we continue with the program.”

Though the project still has no official budget, timeline or target number of asylum seekers to be resettled, the town council nevertheless is tiptoeing ahead.

It recently bought a hulking abandoned stone school, rising like a ghost in the middle of town, and announced it planned to convert it into the “heart” of the project — with a refugee reception area, as well as a community nursery and a co-working space.

The Merci fund has already bought the building where the town’s last book store closed in August. It now plans to reopen the store for the community, while housing a first family of asylum seekers in the upstairs apartment.

“The beginning has to be slow,” Mr. Cohen said. “We have to see if it works. We don’t want to scare people.”

Source: A Shrinking Town at the Center of France’s Culture Wars

Manitoba town influences Alberta immigration strategy | The Star

Of note, too exceptions to the national trend, Morden and Brooks:

While many rural communities across Canada have shrinking or stagnating populations, a town in Manitoba has found a way to use immigration to help bolster its workforce and keep the town thriving.

In February, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced two new programs to help bring new Canadians into rural communities that were dwindling due to the trend of urbanization in the province.

The town of Morden, Man., has been using immigration to support the community’s population and economy for years, and Kenney said the programs being introduced in Alberta were influenced by the success seen a few provinces away.

“There has been a huge success. … Morden, Manitoba, has doubled their population over the last decade through smart use of the provincial immigration … program,” Kenney said.

“They actively promoted immigrants to settle there, and it’s really revitalized towns like that.”

Morden Mayor Brandon Burley said the program, now known as the Morden Community Driven Immigration Initiative, started informally around 10 years ago when the town, which is currently home to 9,929 people, struggled to fill jobs.

“It was designed to address labour shortage in the region,” Burley said.

At first the area was looking to fill highly skilled jobs, such as accountants, doctors, and dentists, but then started to find they also needed tradespeople and other people with specialized skills. The town then turned to the provincial immigration program to help bring newcomers into the community.

Source: Manitoba town influences Alberta immigration strategy | The Star

Alberta launching new programs to boost rural immigration

Always an uphill challenge, and latest Census data indicates ever increasing percentage flocking to urban areas. That being said, even small increases in rural areas can make a difference there even if one of the motivators is political:

Alberta’s United Conservative government is hoping two new programs will bring more immigrants to rural Alberta communities.

Speaking at the Fairness for Newcomers Summit in downtown Calgary on Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney said the programs will encourage skilled workers from abroad to settle outside the province’s big cities to help fill anticipated labour shortages.

“We’re determined to get more than our share of newcomers,” Kenney said. “Newcomers don’t take jobs away from Albertans but help to create jobs. They create additional demand, they create additional wealth and, very typically, they create additional businesses that hire people.”

The Rural Renewal Stream will allow municipalities outside the Calgary and Edmonton metropolitan areas with fewer than 100,000 people to apply to become a designated community for immigrants.

The other program, the Rural Entrepreneur Stream, will let immigrants who want to start or buy a business in rural Alberta visit communities to assess their plans. The UCP had first pitched the programs as campaign promises before the 2019 provincial election.

The Wednesday announcement comes in the wake of the 2021 census, which revealed Alberta has seven of the 10 fastest-shrinking municipalities across Canada, all in far-flung rural areas, as rural communities face aging populations and a dwindling workforce.

One difficulty for immigrants to rural communities is having their foreign credentials recognized, said UCP Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism Muhammad Yaseen. He said the government is aiming to make it easier for trained professionals to put their skills to use, which he said could help alleviate the province’s ongoing rural doctor shortage.

“A larger issue is, how do we get international medical graduates who are here, in Calgary or Edmonton, who are also willing to go to rural Alberta?” Yaseen told Postmedia.“We’re doing whatever we can to help them, to facilitate them, and not only doctors but engineers and pharmacists and others. We don’t want anybody left behind just because their credentials are not recognized.”

Yaseen immigrated to Canada from Pakistan with his family when he was 17, and in 1979 took his first job in Rimbey, about 65 kilometres northwest of Red Deer. At the time, he was the only person of colour in the rural community, something he said has shifted in the intervening decades.

Yaseen did face some discrimination, but said many people welcomed him into the community.

“Rural Alberta culture is a culture of hospitality, a culture of generosity, a culture of sharing and caring, and I learned a lot when I moved there,” he said.

Immigrant Services Calgary applauded the new initiatives, saying they expect plans to boost rural immigration to have broader economic benefits for the province.

“The rural immigration streams announced today will not only contribute to the local economies of small towns and centres across Alberta, but they’ll also support and grow the provincial economy,” said Hyder Hassan, CEO of the local non-profit.

The Opposition NDP criticized the announcement, saying additional community supports need to be established in communities that will be welcoming immigrants.

“These new streams will not be enough to help communities set newcomers up for success,” NDP labour critic Christina Gray said in a statement.

Source: Alberta launching new programs to boost rural immigration

Even as Trump Cut Immigration, Immigrants Transformed U.S.

Of note, the growth of immigration to non-traditional cities and states:

To grasp the impact of the latest great wave of immigration to the United States, consider the city of Grand Island, Neb.: More than 60 percent of public school students are nonwhite, and their families collectively speak 55 languages. During drop-off at Starr Elementary on a recent morning, parents bid their children goodbye in Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.

“You wouldn’t expect to see so many languages spoken in a school district of 10,000,” said Tawana Grover, the school superintendent who arrived from Dallas four years ago. “When you hear Nebraska, you don’t think diversity. We’ve got the world right here in rural America.”

The students are the children of foreign-born workers who flocked to this town of 51,000 in the 1990s and 2000s to toil in the area’s meatpacking plants, where speaking English was less necessary than a willingness to do the grueling work.

They came to Nebraska from every corner of the globe: Mexicans, Guatemalans and Hondurans who floated across the Rio Grande on inner tubes, in search of a better life; refugees who fled famine in South Sudan and war in Iraq to find safe haven; Salvadorans and Cambodians who spent years scratching for work in California and heard that jobs in Nebraska were plentiful and the cost of living low.

The story of how millions of immigrants since the 1970s have put down lasting rootsacross the country is by now well-known. What is less understood about President Trump’s four-year-long push to shut the borders and put “America First” is that his quest may prove ultimately a futile one. Even with one of the most severe declines in immigration since the 1920s, the country is on an irreversible course to becoming ever more diverse, and more dependent on immigrants and their children.

The president since the moment he took office issued a torrent of orders that reduced refugee admissions; narrowed who is eligible for asylum; made it more difficult to qualify for permanent residency or citizenship; tightened scrutiny of applicants for high-skilled worker visas and sought to limit the length of stay for international students. His policies slashed the number of migrants arrested and then released into the country from nearly 500,000 in fiscal 2019 to 15,000 in fiscal 2020.

The measures worked: “We are going to end the decade with lower immigration than in any decade since the ’70s,” said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who analyzed newly available census data.

The president-elect, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pledged to reverse many of the measures. He has vowed to reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, an Obama-era program that allowed young adults mainly brought to the United States illegally as children to remain, and to resume accepting refugees and asylum seekers in larger numbers.

He has also said he would introduce legislation to offer a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

How Much Slower Would the U.S. Grow Without Immigration? In Many Places, a Lot

Good analysis of the disparity between rural and urban areas, once that is similar to that in Canada, and where various federal and provincial initiatives are attempting to address (e.g., Atlantic Immigration Pilot, Northern and Rural Immigration Pilot, provincial use of the Provincial Nominee Program):

As the United States debates the right levels of immigration — and whether, as President Trump suggested, there is room for much more of it — new census data shows that international migration is keeping population growth above water in much of the country.

Although international migration dropped in 2017 and 2018, it accounted for nearly half of overall American population growth in 2018 as birthrates declined and death rates rose.

International migration helped rural counties record their second straight year of growth, according to local population estimates for 2018 that the Census Bureau released on Thursday. And immigrants bolstered urban counties that have been losing residents to more affordable areas. Even so, the three largest metro areas in America — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — all shrank slightly.

Without these international moves, 44 percent of the nation’s population would be in shrinking counties, instead of the current 27 percent. Dense urban counties and sparse rural areas, despite typically being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, share economic concerns related to population decline.

In rural America in particular, shrinking populations can lead to a vicious cycle, causing local businesses to fail and young people to leave in search of opportunity, saddling those who remain with a smaller tax base for local services.

Some tiny communities grew as much from international migration, in percentage terms, as large global magnets did.

The metro areas where international migration contributed the most growth in 2018 include the big, diverse metros of Miami; Orlando, Fla.; and San Jose, Calif. But that growth was rivaled by college towns like Brookings (South Dakota State), Pullman (Washington State), Ames (Iowa State), and Champaign-Urbana (University of Illinois) — as well as by the meatpacking center of Huron, S.D., and the Transcendental Meditation center of Fairfield, Iowa.

Although that’s an eclectic list of places, there’s a clear geographic pattern. International migration contributes to population growth more in larger metros than in smaller ones or in rural areas — and most of all in the dense urban counties of large metros. These urban counties lose population as a result of domestic migration because moves within the United States tend to be out of dense, urban counties and into suburbs or smaller metros.

International migration — which includes immigration and other international moves regardless of citizenship or country of birth — is increasingly important for population growth in the highest-density counties of large metros.

The growth in 2018 for these areas slowed to the lowest rate since 2006, just before the giant housing bust. These urban counties rebounded in the years that followed, reaching a peak in 2011 and 2012 that looked like a demographic reversal of the long-running suburbanization of America. But then urban county growth slowed, and in fact had not been as impressive as originally thought. The latest census data has revised earlier urban growth estimates downward.

Americans are leaving urban counties over all as rising home prices and inadequate construction push people to more affordable suburban counties, midsize metros and smaller metros.

In all, nine of the 51 metros of a million-plus lost people in 2018. An additional 10 large metros — including Miami, Boston and San Francisco — would have lost population if not for international migration. And, for the first time since 2007, the rate of population growth in large metros slipped below that of midsize metros.

New report suggests visas for skilled immigrants to struggling U.S. counties

Some similarities with Canada in terms of the Provincial Nominee Program, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, and the recently announced Northern and Rural Immigration Pilot. Hard to see it going anywhere under the current anti-immigration environment:

The U.S. already has a special visa to attract foreign doctors to treat rural Americans — now a new report suggests expanding that to all skilled immigrants who’d be willing to settle in areas facing long-term demographic problems.

Why it matters: “Migration out of struggling areas has become skill-biased,” according to a new report released by the Economic Innovation Group.

Show less
  • “Someone with a professional or graduate degree is twice as likely to move states as a high school graduate.”
  • “For every one college graduate that the fastest shrinking counties add, the fastest growing add two.”
  • “By 2037, 67% of U.S. counties will contain fewer prime working age adults than they did in 1997.”

The big picture: “At the national level, slower growth in America’s working-age population is a major reason that mainstream forecasters now expect the economy to expand around 2 percent each year rather than the 3 percent common in the second half of the 20th century,” the N.Y. Times’ Neil Irwin notes.

The EIG’s set of principles for a heartland visa:

  1. Communities must “opt in”: Towns or counties that don’t want to participate shouldn’t be forced to join.
  2. Distressed areas first: The program “should be targeted to places confronting chronic population stagnation or loss.”
  3. No work restrictions: Visa holders should be allowed to compete in the labor market, as long as they stay in a specific geographic area.
  4. This should be a path to a green card: “The prospect of permanent residency … should provide an extremely strong incentive for compliance.”
  5. Adding to, not replacing, existing skilled visas: “The scheme would therefore need to be accompanied by a commensurate increase to the green card cap.”

The bottom line: This is somewhat of a moot point during the Trump presidency, which has sought to curb immigration levels. But as the U.S. faces further demographic decline, this is one option for lawmakers trying to help the areas hurting the most.

Source: New report suggests visas for skilled immigrants to struggling U.S. counties

TVO’s The Agenda: Directed Immigration Across Ontario

Good discussion this past Wednesday of some of the issues with respect to encouraging immigration to rural and remote areas with Charles Cirtwill of @NorthernPolicy, Maggie Matear of @TimminsEDC, Effat Ghassemi of @NCPTweets.

Similar issues and discussion elsewhere in Canada where the Provincial Nominee Program, The Atlantic Immigration Pilot, the recently announced federal Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.

The record of the longest running program, Official Language Minority Communities (francophone) has never met its target of 4 percent of the total number of immigrants.

Every year, the Greater Golden Horseshoe adds thousands of newcomers, while other parts of the province struggle just to keep the residents they currently have. Already, such outflows for those communities mean labour shortages and stagnating local economies. The Agenda discusses what it would take to even out which parts of Ontario attract immigrants.

Jason Kenney announces UCP immigration policy

Kenney does know the immigration file and focus on rural Alberta reflects ongoing concerns in rural communities across Canada and the focus on the Provincial Nominee Program makes sense.

One of the interesting apparent paradoxes is that rural Canadians tend to have more reservations about general immigration levels (particularly family and refugee class) and multiculturalism but yet recognize their demographic needs require more immigrants:

Kenney said the UCP plan would aim to bring approximately 10,000 newcomers in total to rural Alberta every year.

Kenney, who served as federal immigration minister from 2008 to 2013, said the plan is meant to address population decline in rural Alberta and reinvigorate the provincial economy.

It mirrors a recent move by the federal government aimed at placing more immigrants in rural communities across Canada.

While immigration is largely seen as a federal responsibility, it is shared between the provinces and Ottawa.

Each province and territory negotiates its own agreement, but that falls within a broader immigration policy set by the federal government.

Alberta immigration policy

In Alberta, there is both a comprehensive immigration agreement and an immigrant nominee program that allows the province to target would-be Albertans based on labour needs.

The federal government assigns a quota of approximately 5,000 positions for the Alberta nominee program.

Kenney says for each one of those positions, typically four people — family members of the nominee — settle in the province.

“I truly believe we have not been as proactive or energetic as we should be in this program,” said Kenney, as he outlined the UCP’s plan if it forms the next provincial government in an election that has not been called yet by Rachel Notley’s governing NDP.

Under Alberta legislation, the election must take place between March 1 and May 31, 2019, with a 28-day campaign.

Kenney’s plan calls for partnerships with rural communities, where referrals from those communities can help place immigrants into the provincial nomination process.

He estimates these changes could bring 8,000 newcomers to smaller communities each year.

Kenney says the plan is based on Manitoba’s system, where 20 per cent of newcomers now settle in rural areas.

Entrepreneur program could add 2,000 people to rural areas

The UCP would also create what it’s calling a rural entrepreneur stream.

It would set aside 500 position for immigration to the province for those who meet minimum income and investment thresholds and are willing to invest in businesses in rural communities.

Kenney says those immigrants would have to be active majority owners of those businesses.

He says the UCP estimates the entrepreneur program could mean an additional 2,000 people coming to rural communities each year.

That system is based on one in British Columbia.

Kenney said there are details that would have to be worked out before the immigration policy was established, based on what he said would be extensive consultations with immigrants, agencies, municipalities and more.

He also said Alberta under the UCP would push for a larger share of immigrants outside of the provincial policy.

“My goal would be to get a larger share of the federally selected immigrants by getting our economy back to work,” said Kenney.

Source: Jason Kenney announces UCP immigration policy

Unlikely new residents are reviving Australian country towns

A reminder of the contribution some lower skilled immigrants can make to rural communities and a caution regarding the limits of encouraging more high skilled immigrants to settle there:

First came the Burmese, then the Afghans and the Africans. Since 2016, 400-odd Yazidis have washed up in Wagga Wagga, a regional centre south-west of Sydney. Its primary school has had to hire interpreters to communicate with families (fully a fifth of its students are refugees). The local college teems with parents learning English and new trades. Doctors have had to brush up on illnesses rarely found in the area. Few locals seem fussed about the changes. And to those fresh out of war zones, “Wagga” is an idyll. “My children are safe,” says Ismail Darwesh, a Yazidi who fled Islamic State’s attempt to wipe out his people, a religious minority in Iraq and Syria. “Everything you want you can get here.”

The refugees have been sent to Wagga Wagga under a scheme which brings beneficiaries from foreign camps to rural Australia (most settle in urban areas). The hope is that they can offset the population decline that threatens many outback settlements with extinction, as birth rates fall and youngsters head for cities. Wagga Wagga’s Multicultural Council says the population is only growing thanks to the new arrivals. Immigrants are helping to stem shrinkage in another 150 localities.

The scheme helps big cities, too, by easing the pressure on roads, schools and hospitals there. Thousands of Iraqis and Syrians descended on Sydney’s western suburbs after extra visas were dished out to them in 2016 and 2017. Many have struggled to find work, and conservatives grumble about ghettoisation. A recent report from the Centre for Policy Development, a think-tank, found that just 17% of “humanitarian entrants” have jobs after 18 months in Australia. Yet remote towns are crying out for people to fill vacancies on farms, in abattoirs and to look after the elderly. The cost of living is lower than in Sydney or Melbourne and, for farmers like Mr Darwesh, a quiet life is appealing anyway.

To stay afloat, some outback towns have taken to recruiting migrants for themselves. A piggery in Pyramid Hill, in northern Victoria, started sponsoring workers from the Philippines a decade ago. They now make up a fifth of its 500-odd population, keeping not just the business afloat, but also the local school. Another town in the same state, Nhill, lured 160 Burmese refugees from Melbourne with jobs at a food company, adding perhaps A$40m ($28m) to its economy. A group of residents in Walla Walla, a dot in New South Wales, is now scouting for refugees from Sydney. “We have jobs, we have housing and we have education,” says Andrew Kotzur, who runs the local steelworks. “We just need more people to sustain them.”

Asylum-seekers and farm labourers make up a tiny portion of the immigrants pouring into Australia. The conservative coalition government is keen to rusticate others, too. Scott Morrison, the prime minister, has suggested that some of Australia’s 500,000 foreign students could be sent to regional universities. The population minister, Alan Tudge, added that visa restrictions and incentives could be used to push skilled migrants out of Melbourne and Sydney. Almost all the best-qualified arrivals settle in those two cities, but luring them out will not be easy. It is partly owing to migration that Sydney and Melbourne are thriving. Foreign accountants and it geeks choose them for well-paid work and swanky suburbs. Rob them of both, and far fewer would come to Oz at all.

Source: Unlikely new residents are reviving Australian country towns