America’s top 12 immigrant power cities

As the presidential election cycle builds momentum, immigration stands out as one of the most heated topics. Whatever your view on immigration reform today, there’s no denying the role of immigrants in building the U.S.

Examples of high-profile immigrant success stories span sports, business and entertainment. Basketball star Dikembe Mutombo, inventor Elon Musk and actress Mila Kunis are just a few examples. Of course, most immigrants succeed outside the spotlight. They contribute to their communities through their individual talents and hard work. And, in some parts of the country, they’re achieving notable success in terms of education, employment and income.

Places where immigrants are doing especially well top our list of America’s Top 12 Immigrant Power Cities. We ranked the top 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and compared U.S. Census data on immigrants (that is, the foreign-born population) to that on the MSA as a whole.

In these Power Cities, people born outside the U.S. have, on the whole, more education and higher incomes than typical residents. They’re also less likely to be unemployed.

Specifically, for each metro area we looked at:

  • The percentage of the total population that are immigrants.
  • Immigrant population growth compared to overall population growth between 2009 and 2013 (the latest year for which complete data is available).
  • Median household incomes for immigrants compared to the area as a whole.
  • Percent of the immigrant population with a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to the percent of the overall population.
  • Unemployment rate of immigrants compared to the overall area rate.

The top 12 cities are places where the difference between metrics for the foreign-born population and the metro area as a whole were greatest.

Here are the top 12:

1. Pittsburgh, PA

In the Steel City, immigrants’ median household incomes are almost $4,000 a year more than those of the metro population as a whole—$3,905 more to be exact. In addition, more than half of all immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree compared to less than a third of the overall MSA population. That difference (24.8 percentage points) is the highest among the top 12.

2. Toledo, OH

Both population measures declined here, but the decline among immigrants was lower than for the population as a whole. Toledo ranked first in terms of the immigrant population’s edge in the employment market. While overall metro unemployment is more than eight percent, immigrant unemployment is less than six percent.

3. Dayton, OH

Dayton grabs third place on our list primarily because immigrants’ median household incomes exceed those of the metro as a whole by the largest margin among the top 100 MSAs: $5,980. Educational attainment is also a lot higher among immigrants than for the metro as a whole.

4. Akron, OH

Akron lands in fourth thanks to favorable performance on two comparisons: education and unemployment. More than 40 percent of immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree, but less than 30 percent of the MSA as a whole does. And while the overall MSA unemployment rate is 6.9 percent, immigrant unemployment is 4.9 percent.

5. Cincinnati, OH

Here, immigrants’ incomes are almost exactly the same as those for the MSA as a whole—the difference is only $45. But, immigrants have a fairly wide margin when it comes to education and population growth.

6. St. Louis, MO

St. Louis scores well across all categories, but did especially well in two comparisons: immigrants’ population growth and educational attainment compared to the overall MSA numbers.

7. Baton Rouge, LA

Baton Rouge also scores well across all the metrics, and it actually beats St. Louis, Cincinnati and Akron in terms of the income edge immigrants have. In Baton Rouge, immigrants’ median earnings are $1,448 a year more than those for the metro as a whole. However, in other comparisons, it fares less well than those higher-ranked places.

8. Jackson, MS

Overall, the population in Jackson grew at a nice clip, but the immigrant population is booming. The difference between the two (43.5 percentage points) is the highest among the top 12.

9. Chattanooga, TN

Median incomes for Chattanooga’s immigrants exceed those of typical metro residents by more than $3,000 a year. On that metric, Chattanooga is third among the top 12.

10. Detroit, MI

The Motor City’s population on the whole and among immigrants is declining. However, it’s got the highest total immigrant population of the top 12. In Detroit, that number is 8.8 percent. Its closest competition from our list is Cleveland, at 5.7 percent.

11. Cleveland, OH

Yes, nearly half of the towns on our list are in Ohio, making it America’s Immigrant Power State. Cleveland’s overall immigrant population is second among the top 12, and the margin by which immigrants’ education numbers exceed those of the metro as a whole is actually higher than in some of the higher-ranked places. However, immigrants here earn slightly less than the MSA as a whole—$670 a year less.

12. Augusta, GA

Like in Cleveland, immigrants in Augusta make slightly less per year in terms of median incomes ($1,391 less). However, the Garden City’s immigrant population is growing much more quickly than its overall population, and immigrants are doing well on the other comparisons, too.
Data source: U.S. Census.

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