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Editor's Pick

What If Every State Had Record Immigration?

David J. Bier

The immigrant share of the US population is approaching near-record highs of about 15 percent nationwide. However, this share is still significantly lower than two-thirds of other wealthy countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Moreover, the immigrant population in the US is more evenly dispersed between states today than during the high immigration periods in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, despite the near-record high nationwide, only seven US states were at historical peaks in 2022 (the most recent American Community Survey year).

This means that it is easy to imagine a world in which the United States permitted a much higher share of immigration relative to its population than it does today because 43 states have already experienced that world. If every state currently had its peak historical immigrant share, the total US immigrant population would be twice as large as it was in 2022. This would mean an additional 46 million immigrants, resulting in a total immigrant population of 92 million and a nationwide immigrant share of 24.2 percent—comparable to current levels in Canada and New Zealand.

Of course, unless 46 million immigrants arrive overnight, the country will not reach an immigrant share of 24.2 percent. Over time, many immigrants leave, and the ones who stay often have children, increasing the native-born population. In reality, tens of millions more immigrants would need to come to reach this population share.

Even the seven states that were already at their historic peak in 2022 should not sweat it. None of them are anywhere near the record share for any US state. Indeed, fourteen states have had immigrant shares double the current US nationwide share or higher. They not only survived but thrived as a result of those immigrants and their descendants.

Americans should not fear immigrants who come to contribute to this country. They will be the workers, consumers, taxpayers, entrepreneurs, and community members who will help grow America into the next century. We should welcome them to immigrate legally with the knowledge that US history has repeatedly shown that immigrants are a source of strength, not weakness.

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