WASHINGTON — A steady flow of new immigrants is providing a late-decade population boost to major metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Miami, New York and Los Angeles, whose states are seeking to stem declines before the 2010 census.
Even with a recent dip in immigration, the addition of foreign migrants into those major cities most attractive to them has cushioned substantial population losses from native-born Americans who had migrated to interior parts of the U.S. in search of jobs, wider spaces and affordable housing before the recession.
Now that many U.S. residents are staying put in large cities due to a housing crunch, California, Illinois and New York each are on track to avert a loss of at least one House seat. Florida could add one or two seats to its delegation depending on how much recent mortgage foreclosures have erased earlier population gains.
"From all that we have been seeing, there is a definite slowdown in the migration trends that had put these states at risk," said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, a Virginia-based firm that crunches political numbers. Those states have "been given a grace of God."
Still, noting that many of the population numbers remain in flux, Brace cautioned: "A whole congressional seat can change at the drop of the hat."
An analysis by the Brookings Institution think tank finds immigration is buoying many of the nation's larger cities. New York and Los Angeles picked up 1.1 million and 815,000 immigrants since 2000, respectively, and together account for one-fourth of the foreign-born arrivals. That lessened the impact of an exodus of 1.8 million residents from New York and 1.2 million from Los Angeles.
Chicago, Washington and Miami have been hurt by overbuilding and foreclosures in parts of their metro regions, but last year they reversed trends from earlier in the decade and posted increases in immigrants that more than offset losses in native-born Americans.
In all, 20 out of the 40 largest metropolitan areas sustained losses in American-born residents from 2000 to 2008, including Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, according to the Brookings study being released Wednesday. But in 15 of those 20 metro areas, immigration made up for at least half of the associated population loss.
In contrast, declining Rust Belt areas, such as Detroit, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, failed to reap substantial population benefits from immigrants.
The population projections are based on 2008 census estimates. The Census Bureau later this month will release new 2009 figures that are expected to highlight a continuing decline in U.S. mobility.
Some other population shifts:
_From 2007 to 2008, 23 states changed from having increases in the influx of residents moving in to either slower growth or population losses. Many of them were states that had benefited from the mid-decade housing boom, such as Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
_Texas in the last decade has seen large population gains due to steady immigration, as well as diverse economies in its major cities and an increase in residents from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
The figures highlight the stakes involved in next year's census, which is used to apportion House seats and distribute more than $400 billion in federal aid. Ultimately, the political winners and losers will depend on the actual head count of U.S. residents, including native-born Americans and legal and illegal immigrants.
Texas previously had stood to gain four House seats and Arizona two seats, based on earlier population trends of torrid Sunbelt growth during the housing boom. But with U.S. mobility now at a 60-year low, Texas may add just three seats and Arizona one. Missouri and Minnesota could avoid losing seats and Ohio may drop one seat instead of two. New York, which earlier had been projected to lose two seats, is now on track to lose one.
"The mid-decade bubble migration, if continued, could have made Florida an even more valuable political prize than it already is, and diminished the clout of big Democratic 'blue states' like California and New York," said William H. Frey, who wrote the Brookings report. "The recent migration slowdown seems to have put those trends on hold, for the time being."
Frey predicted the Sunbelt region will continue to draw new residents once the economy improves but that growth won't return to the exponential rates of earlier in the decade. He said metro areas with the largest promise for growth will have diversified economies, such as Seattle; Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; San Jose, Calif.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C., as well as "young professional magnets" including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Census Bureau officially launches its head count next month in parts of rural Alaska because of inclement weather in the spring. The bureau will conduct its count for the rest of the nation via mail and door-to-door canvassing beginning next April.
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