Editorial: Akron shows why legal immigrants an engine of growth

Cleveland Plain Dealer

New census estimates reveal a powerful force for population stability in America’s urban cores — if cities like Cleveland can take advantage of it. In the face of continuing suburban flight from U.S. cities, immigrants are the new stabilizing force for urban America, a Brookings Institution analysis of recently released Census Bureau population estimates has found.

Among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, Akron was the No. 1 exhibit for this phenomenon, ranking 1st in the contribution of immigration to its population gains since 2010.

The Cleveland-Elyria area, which had a net loss of more than 20,000 people in that time, ranked 99th. (Pittsburgh’s metro was in last place at 100.)

What does this tell us? First, that immigration is not a bad word, despite all the partisan hype trying to scare people about black and brown immigrants. The contributions of legal immigration have nothing to do with country of origin and everything to do with making sure those with legal status can start businesses, create jobs and contribute to innovation.

Second, that legal immigration is a boon for urban America and for the U.S. economy, and should be made far easier and smarter to accomplish, in Cleveland and elsewhere.

That means comprehensive immigration reform — something that was tantalizingly close just six years ago, when the Senate passed an immigration bill by a huge margin. That bill died in the U.S. House, where it also had strong support, after then-House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio — who earlier appeared to mock colleagues too lily-livered to support it — declined to bring the bill to the floor in the face of a conservative rebellion within the GOP.

Such reform remains possible and needed. Legal immigration is exactly what the new census estimates show it to be — a stabilizing force and engine of growth for our cities.

Akron shows why.

The Akron metro area of about 700,000 is not immune to suburban flight. The metro area lost 14,505 people to out-migration between 2010 and last year — but it gained 13,108 from immigration, the Brookings think tank found.

When added to “natural increase” — Akronites having children, weighed against older folks dying — that yielded a net population gain of 1,642, more than 100 percent of it driven by immigration, according to Brookings.

The Chicago area was ranked second, after Akron, in terms of immigration’s contribution to overall population growth; Detroit was third; the New York City area sixth and Dayton’s metro area, seventh.

For Greater Cleveland at No. 99, it was a different story.

According to Brookings, 37,196 immigrants arrived in Greater Cleveland in the last eight years.

Pretty healthy, and largely a reflection of the area’s strong “Eds and Meds” base, right?

But 71,731 residents left the Cleveland metro area in that time, moving to suburbs, other parts of Ohio or other states.

So, despite natural growth of 14,921, the Cleveland area’s population fell by 20,269. While the Cleveland metro population is still at slightly more than 2 million people, the current population estimates reflect a continuation of this region’s troubling steady downward trend.

Let’s set aside the prejudices and embrace legal immigration for the vitality, and stability, it’s been shown to confer in towns large and small. That means broad immigration reform, a wider recognition of immigration’s overall economic positives and more efforts in Greater Cleveland both to counter out-migration and also to ease the in-migration of ambitious and hardworking newcomers to our country.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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