Like most of the United States, Sierra County saw an increase in the number of foreign-born residents over the last decade.
From 2000 to 2012, the number of Sierra County residents who were born in a foreign country grew by 84 people to an estimated 191, according to U.S. Census data.
The percentage of county residents who are foreign born also increased during the period, from 3.0 percent to an estimated 6.0 percent.
The findings could be important locally because a new study by the Daily Yonder indicates rural counties with a higher percentage of immigrants are doing better economically.
The study looked at the nation’s 1,966 nonmetropolitan counties, including Sierra County. Nonmetropolitan, or rural, counties have no cities of 50,000 or more residents and don’t have strong economic ties to a county that does.
The research showed that counties with a higher percentage of their population born in foreign countries generally had a higher per capita market income and more jobs. These same counties also tended to have lower rates of unemployment and better poverty than counties with a smaller proportion of immigrants.
In Sierra County, the economic results were mixed throughout the period of the study.
· Total employment grew by 1.1 percent to an estimated 1,533 full and part-time jobs.
· Unemployment rose by 8.7 percentage points to 14.5 percent.
· And the percentage of people living below the federal poverty line grew from 10.5 in 2000 to an estimated 13.1 in 2012.
The county’s overall 2012 population estimate was 3,200, a decrease of 11.0 percent over the past decade.
The connection between more immigrants and better economic performance did not surprise James H. Johnson Jr., a University of North Carolina business professor who has researched the economic impact of immigration.
“What people don’t understand is that immigration is a selective process,” he said. Immigrants tend to be younger and healthier than the general population, he said. “They are risk takers by definition. For them, the glass is always half full.”
But the demographic change can be challenging for smaller communities, said Daniel T. Lichter at the Cornell University Population Center.
“Whether communities take advantage of the potential of immigrant communities to improve the local economy depends on local leadership and how well they respond to immigrant populations,” he said.
The study is based on the 2000 U.S. Census and five-year American Community Survey data from 2012, the last year available when the study was conducted. The survey data is an estimate and has a margin of error that varies with county size.
More details on the study are available at www.dailyyonder.com/immigration2015.
Tim Marema is editor of the news site DailyYonder.com. Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., is a Daily Yonder researcher and an associate extension professor at the Mississippi State University. The Daily Yonder (www.dailyyonder.com) is published by the Center for Rural Strategies, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Whitesburg, Ky.