Big Cities Struggle to Hold onto New Immigrants as Costs Rise

Article excerpt

Every day, new immigrants pour into America's largest metropolitan areas, swelling the population and diversifying the culture. There's only one problem. An increasing number of those immigrants are later picking up and moving somewhere else. And unlike the middle-class whites of the 1960s and '70s, they're not fleeing to the suburbs, they're moving to entirely different cities that are more affordable.

This migration bodes well for the assimilation of these immigrants and the diversification of middle America. But some observers worry that it will drive a further wedge between rich and poor in the nation's largest cities.

"New immigrants come to cities like New York or Los Angeles regardless of the economy; they come because they have family connections there," says William Frey, a demographer and author of a new report on the subject for the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the "economic outmigration" taking place at almost the same rate raises the prospects of a two- tier economy that could ultimately polarize the groups.

"There is a potential concern about the availability of education in the long term for children in the lower tier," he adds. "And education in the long-term is one of the ways to bridge those two communities together."

The rising cost of living and lack of job opportunity are driving the outmigration. In the last two years, for example, thousands of immigrants have left the densely packed, well-established "Little Guyana" section of Queens, N.Y. Their destination: Schenectady, a former manufacturing town in upstate New York.

In less than two years, Schenectady's Guyanese population has quadrupled, to approximately 5,000, estimates Elcid Ramotar, a business developer and liaison at the city's Economic Development Corporation.

The draw: affordable housing. In Queens, a typical single-family home can sell for $500,000, says Mr. Ramotar. The same home in Schenectady only costs $100,000.

Back in Queens, the outflow is noticeable. "So many people have left for upstate, and many more people are planning to leave," says Archie Narine, a wholesale distributor of West Indies products in Queens. Still, he says, "new immigrants are coming [to Queens] every day. You can't stop that flow."

In metropolitan New York as a whole, nearly 1 million new immigrants arrived between 1995 and 2000, according to census figures. …