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US Census Data Shows Immigrants Moving Out of Cities

Undocumented college student Jorge Herrera, 18, center, of Carson, Calif., rallies with students and Dream Act supporters in Los Angeles, 18 Dec 2010.
Undocumented college student Jorge Herrera, 18, center, of Carson, Calif., rallies with students and Dream Act supporters in Los Angeles, 18 Dec 2010.

This week the U.S. Census Bureau released the official count of the U.S. population. Earlier, a huge trove of census data was made available in the form of the American Community Survey, which shows immigrants are assimilating quickly. But experts say the country's future growth may depend on its Hispanic minority.

The Census bureau showed some of the ads of the past year that helped persuade everyone in the country to be counted. Bureau director Robert Groves presented the official once-in-a-decade tally, as required by the Constitution.

"As of April 1, 2010, according to the 2010 Census, the resident U.S. population is 308,745,538 persons," he said.

Related video report by Elizabeth Lee

That number determines how many seats each state will have in Congress, and getting it was no small undertaking for the census bureau. But its American Community Survey, released just a few days earlier, contains much more detailed information on the breakdown of wealth, education levels, and ethnic diversity - even in small towns.

The American Community Survey comprises about 11 billion statistical estimates from the past five years. William Frey of the Brookings Institution says that is a boon for demographers like him.

"Up until this census you would always have to wait for the decennial census, which would only come out every ten years - 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 - and within that 10-year period you really did not have very much new information about what was going on," said Frey.

The American Community Survey estimates that there are 37 million foreign-born residents in the United States, both legal and undocumented. That is an increase of about six-million people in the last decade.

Frey says the new data show for the first time that their settling patterns have been different from previous immigrant groups. They congregated in major cities like New York, Miami, Chicago or Los Angeles.

"In the past, immigrants would come to the United States and first move downtown, maybe in a community with other people that they knew from the country of their origin, or maybe relatives of theirs," added Frey. "But now that is not as much the case, more people - and now more than half of the new immigrants coming to the United States - are moving out to the suburbs."

By far the biggest group is the nearly 20 million people of Latin American origin. Asia was the next largest place of birth, accounting for 10 million people.

Frey says the new Hispanic immigrants are settling in areas like Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Nashville, Tennessee, which have never had significant Spanish-speaking populations before.

New York University Immigration Studies Professor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco believes the survey data says something about America.

"The implications are that now immigration is really deeply, deeply ingrained in our DNA," said Suárez-Orozco. "It is everywhere."

But he sees problems ahead.

"While the good news is that Hispanics are making their transition to American society in ways that are very, very similar to what happened in previous generations, the question is, 'Is that enough?" he said.

He says the relatively low educational achievement of Hispanic-origin youth suggest they are not getting the kind of tools they need to succeed in knowledge-intensive sectors of the new economy. Suarez Orozco says that is important because he predicts Hispanics will account for more than 80 percent of the increase in future population.