Settlement Patterns of the Foreign Born in the United States: Results from Census 2000
By Elizabeth Grieco
Migration Policy Institute
October 1, 2002
According to the US Census Bureau, the number of foreign born in the United
States increased from 19.8 million in 1990 to 31.1 million in 2000. Although
the foreign born remain concentrated in certain states, such as California,
Texas, and New York, the foreign-born populations in "non-traditional" states,
such as North Carolina, Georgia, and Nevada, have experienced considerable and
rapid growth. This spotlight examines the geographic distribution of the
foreign born in the United States. (Source: US Census Bureau, 1990 Census of
Population and Housing and Census 2000.)
California, Texas, and New York have the largest numbers of foreign born.
According to Census 2000, the states with the largest foreign-born populations
were California (8.9 million), New York (3.9 million), and Texas (2.9 million).
The remaining 10 states with the largest foreign-born populations include
Florida (2.7 million), Illinois (1.5 million), New Jersey (1.5 million),
Massachusetts (0.8 million), Arizona (0.7 million), Washington (0.6 million),
and Georgia (0.6 million). The United States as a whole had 31.1 million
Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota have the smallest numbers of
The states with the smallest foreign-born populations in 2000 were Wyoming
(11,200), North Dakota (12,100), and South Dakota (13,500). Other states with
less than 40,000 foreign born include Montana (16,400), West Virginia (19,400),
Vermont (23,200), Maine (36,700), Alaska (37,200), and Mississippi (39,900).
The states with the largest percent foreign born are California and New
York, followed by New Jersey and Hawaii.
In 2000, the states with the largest percent foreign born in their total
populations were California (26.2 percent) and New York (20.4 percent) followed
by New Jersey (17.5 percent) and Hawaii (17.5 percent). The percent foreign
born in these states was higher than the percent foreign born in the entire
United States (11.1 percent), which was also true for Florida (16.7 percent),
Nevada (15.8 percent), Texas (13.9 percent), Arizona (12.8 percent), Illinois
(12.3 percent), Massachusetts (12.2 percent), Rhode Island (11.4 percent), and
the District of Columbia (12.9 percent).
Five states, including West Virginia, Mississippi, South Dakota, Montana,
and North Dakota, have less than 2 percent foreign born in their total
According to Census 2000, the states with the lowest percent foreign born were
West Virginia (1.1 percent), Mississippi (1.4 percent), South Dakota (1.8
percent), Montana (1.8 percent), and North Dakota (1.9 percent). Nine other
states had less than 3 percent foreign born in their total populations,
including Alabama (2.0 percent), Kentucky (2.0 percent), Wyoming (2.3 percent),
Louisiana (2.6 percent), Missouri (2.7 percent), Arkansas (2.8 percent),
Tennessee (2.8 percent), Maine (2.9 percent) and South Carolina (2.9 percent).
North Carolina, Georgia, and Nevada experienced the greatest increase in
their foreign-born populations.
The states that experienced the greatest percent increase in their foreign-born
populations between 1990 and 2000 include North Carolina (273.7 percent),
Georgia (233.4 percent), and Nevada (202.0 percent). Other states whose
foreign-born populations increased by over 135 percent include Arkansas (196.3
percent), Utah (170.8 percent), Tennessee (169.0 percent), Nebraska (164.7
percent), Colorado (159.7 percent), Arizona (135.9 percent), and Kentucky
(135.3 percent). For the United States, the foreign-born population grew by
The states that experienced the smallest increase in their foreign-born
populations include Maine and Montana.
Maine (1.1 percent) and Montana (19.0 percent) experienced the smallest
increase in their foreign-born populations between 1990 and 2000, followed by
West Virginia (23.4 percent), Rhode Island (25.4 percent), and North Dakota
(29.0 percent). Although the District of Columbia had a large percentage of
foreign born in its total population, the foreign born population grew by only
The West region had the highest number of foreign born and the highest
percentage of foreign born in its total population, but the South region
experienced the greatest percent change.
The West had the largest foreign-born population, with 11.9 million, followed
by the South (8.6 million), the Northeast (7.2 million) and the Midwest (3.3
million). The West also had the highest percent foreign born in its total
population, with 17.5 percent, followed by the Northeast (13.5 percent), South
(8.6 percent) and Midwest (5.6 percent). The South had the highest percent
increase, with 87.9 percent, followed by the Midwest (56.1 percent), the West
(52.7 percent), and the Northeast (38.2 percent).
For more information on the distribution of the foreign born in the United
States, click here.
States by Region
The US Census Bureau categorizes the 50 states and the District of Columbia
into four regions: Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. The Northeast region
includes the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New
Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The Midwest region
includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota,
Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The South
region includes the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South
Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia and the District of
Columbia. The West region includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California,
Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington,
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