Immigration is rarely a topic of happy conversation in this country. From the White House to Congress to town-hall meetings, our discussions are fractured by suspicion and partisanship – and worsened by harsh stereotypes of foreigners who seek new lives on American soil.
That’s why we’re intrigued by Pew Charitable Trust’s new report, “Philadelphia’s Immigrants: Who they are how they are changing the city.” The analysis uses both 2016 census data and the results of a Pew opinion survey to paint a much more nuanced and interesting picture of the immigrants responsible for the city’s increasingly international makeup.
From 2000 to 2016, roughly 95,000 foreign-born people made their home here; That means that even though the number of US born Philadelphians fell by 44,000, the city’s population grew for the first time in a half century.
That’s a much-needed boon for a rust-belt town like ours, and it’s time we started seeing it that way.
The Pew report also reveals surprising similarities and differences between native and foreign-born neighbors.
Economically, city immigrants’ median household income was about $39,700, close to that of U.S.-born Philadelphians. Their poverty rate was actually lower – 24 percent.
And academically, about three in ten city immigrants had college degrees, slightly higher than among native-born Philadelphians.
Who knew all of this? Not many Philadelphians, likely. But we need to if we’re to move beyond the tired conviction that immigrants drag a city down.
Not all the news from Pew is bright and shiny. Poverty is growing at a higher rate among immigrants than among U.S.-born Philadelphians. Many are less educated than natives; others’ inability to speak English burdens our schools and service providers.
Also, the report notes, the differences between foreign-born suburbanites and foreign-born city dwellers are similar to how non-immigrant city and suburb dwellers differ: they have higher incomes, are better-educated and there are two of them for every one immigrant living in the city.
Some things never change.
Where all city immigrants have an edge over their U.S.-born counterparts is in their exuberance for Philadelphia. They are “overwhelmingly upbeat about the city’s future and more positive than U.S.-born Philadelphians about certain aspects of city life, such as public schools,” according to Pew.
Might all of that energy and positivity impact the culture of a city proud of its “Neg-adelphia” reputation? Perhaps it’s already rubbing off.
“Most U.S.-born Philadelphians had positive things to say about immigration,” the Pew report notes about natives’ attitudes toward those whose foreign tongues are heard with increasing frequency on our streets and buses, in our schools and shops. “Nearly two-thirds described themselves as ‘sympathetic’ or ‘very sympathetic’ to unauthorized immigrants in the city.”
Loudest among their supporters, obviously, is Mayor Kenney, who broke into that goofy happy dance last week: On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled in favor of the city regarding the Trump administration’s threat to withhold law-enforcement grants to Philadelphia as punishment for its sanctuary-city policies.
Kenney, a born-and-bred Philly guy, proud descendent of Irish immigrants – has been a consistent supporter of immigrants and immigration, and the Pew Report shows the benefits of that consistency. It’s a lead the rest of the country should follow.
— Steve Preston (@StevePrest) June 6, 2018