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Posted on Mon. Aug. 25, 2014 - 12:15 am EDT

Immigrants fill aging void

Number of people able to fill jobs slowly declining in Midwest cities

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If not for the wave of immigration last decade, some Indiana metropolitan areas would not have grown and others would have seen greater population losses, according to a recent study.

As the population ages and the number of those in their early- to mid-working years decline, immigrants in Indiana and cities across the Midwest are filling a void, according to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs in what it calls the first analysis of immigration trends in Midwestern metro areas from 2000 to 2010.

Of the population gain in Allen County, more than one in four newcomers was an immigrant, according to the council’s census analysis.

As the debate over immigration stalls in Congress, the report concludes that Midwest communities should work to fully integrate immigrants into economic, labor and civic processes. It calls for policies “that fully recognize immigration as an asset, not a burden, to the region.”

The council is a nonpartisan organization “committed to educating the public – and influencing the public discourse – on global issues of the day,” according to its website.

For decades, legal and illegal immigration has replenished the decline in native-born residents.

But in recent years the drop in undocumented, or illegal, immigrants has slowed immigration, which will lower the number of consumers, students and workers in many communities, said Rob Paral, the report’s author.

“What’s going to happen is there will be quite a few number of places that are going to go into an even slower growth phase than they have been,” Paral said in a phone interview. “Putting aside whatever you think about undocumented immigration, just as a mathematical factor it kept your numbers up.”

While the Midwest’s share of the nation’s population has declined over the last 50 years, a million immigrants have helped to slow that decline, according to the report. Those foreign-born residents include naturalized citizens, legal residents, temporary visitors and illegal immigrants.

The report looks at 71 metropolitan areas – often consisting of more than one county – in 12 Midwestern states, where immigration accounted for 38.4 percent of growth between 2000 and 2010. It calls immigration a “lifeline” that will help “maintain the vitality” of metro areas.

In Indiana, Terre Haute and South Bend would have declined in population if not for immigrants, according to the report. More than half the population gains reported in metropolitan Chicago; Akron, Ohio; Lansing, Michigan; and Saint Joseph, Missouri, are attributed to immigration.

Allen County grew by nearly 26,000 people, according to the report. While the native-born population grew about 10 percent, the foreign-born population grew 51 percent. In Indianapolis, the immigrant population more than doubled.

Most of the county’s foreign born are either from Asian countries or from Latin America or Central America. The single largest group is from Mexico.

Palermo Galindo, president of the Greater Fort Wayne Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, moved to Fort Wayne in the early 1990s.

In the last 20 years, Hispanic businesses have expanded from the traditional markets – grocery stores and restaurants among them – to car dealerships, cleaning services, hair salons and others, he said, adding that the chamber membership has grown “tremendously.”

“If you walk down Broadway, Creighton, Calhoun (streets), tax services, insurance companies. I mean, there’s all this growth in our community,” he said. “So there’s definitely an impact.”

A focal point in the council’s report is the aging Midwest. Baby boomers are retiring and the prime-working age group 35-44 declined 20.6 percent in the Midwest – 17.5 percent in Allen County. While immigrants are generally young, they often don’t have the needed skills to fill jobs, Paral said.

“What do you do to give them those skills?” Paral said.

In addition, Indiana, like most Midwestern states, has slow demographic growth, which affects economic and fiscal policy.

“The other thing is, this idea only now is beginning to get more attention, is what happens when these baby boomers leave the working age?” Paral said.

“People haven’t really realized that there is a vacuum behind them.”

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