Changing Demographics and Poverty

The rapid influx of immigrants to the U.S. in recent years is one of the more dramatic demographic developments with implications for both the number and profile of poor people in the U.S. In absolute terms, the number of immigrants currently living in America is at an historic high (39.9 million), as shown below.

However, in relative terms, the share of the U.S. population that was foreign born in 2010 (12.9%) is actually lower than the share of the population that was foreign born at the start of the 20th century (14.7%). Immigration was restricted between World War I and 1964, so in comparison to this period of lower immigration flows, current immigration rates may seem particularly high.

A distinguishing feature of immigrant flows since 1965 is that they are more racially and ethnically diverse than previous waves that primarily brought immigrants first from Northern and Central Europe (largely pre-1900), and later from Southern and Eastern Europe (from around 1890 to 1924). As shown below, the share of the foreign born population hailing from Latin America has grown from less than ten percent (9.4%) in 1960 to over half (53.1%) in 2010. The share from Asia has also greatly increased from 5.1% to 28.2%.

How Are Immigrants Faring?

Given relatively low levels of education among Hispanic immigrants, who represent the largest share of immigrants in 2009, it is not surprising that the foreign-born tend to have a higher poverty rate (19.0%) compared with native born people (13.7%). Despite the higher rate of poverty among the foreign born in 2009, poverty remains lower among this group than it was in 1993 (23.0%)