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School & District Management

Census: Foreign-Born Population Reaches Record High

By Lesli A. Maxwell — May 10, 2012 2 min read
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The U.S. Census Bureau reports today that the population of foreign-born people living in the United States has reached 40 million, an all-time high. That figure—from the 2010 American Community Survey—comprises about 13 percent of the total population in the U.S., which is roughly 312 million people. That represents the largest share of the population since 1910, when foreign-born residents comprised 14.7 percent of the overall population.

About one-third of those foreign-born residents entered the U.S. since 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, the foreign-born population grew by about 9 million residents, though that growth slowed considerably in the second half of the decade, according to Elizabeth M. Grieco, who is the chief of the Census bureau’s foreign-born population branch. That rate of growth, while robust, was not as brisk as it was between 1990 and 2000.

Foreign born is defined by the Census Bureau as anyone who was not a U.S. citizen at birth, including naturalized U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and unauthorized immigrants.

Latin America, of course, was the biggest source of foreign-born residents, at more than 50 percent, and more than half of them were born in Mexico. But immigration from Mexico has come to a standstill in the last five years, according to data released last month by the Pew Hispanic Center.

While foreign-born residents live in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, more than a quarter are in California, while another quarter are spread among just three other states: Texas, New York, and Florida.

About half of all foreign-born residents either spoke only English at home or spoke a language other than English at home and spoke English “very well,” according to the report, but there was considerable variation between the regions of origin. For those from Africa, for example, 71 percent either spoke only English at home or spoke another language at home in addition to speaking English “very well.” For those from Latin America, however, that share was much lower at 37 percent. Drilling down even more, the foreign-born residents from the Caribbean were more likely to speak only English at home at 32 percent, compared to 15 percent from South America, 7 percent from “other” Central America, and 3 percent from Mexico.

That same variation shows up in educational attainment levels as well, with 88 percent of foreign-born residents from the Africa region having a high school degree or higher, compared to 53 percent for those from Latin America, which includes the Caribbean.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.