Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Boston's New Immigrants and New Economy, 1965-2015

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Boston's New Immigrants and New Economy, 1965-2015

Article excerpt

Editor's Introduction: HJM is proud to select as our Editor's Choice Award for this issue Marilynn S. Johnson's superb study, The New Bostonians: How Immigrants Have Transformed the Metro Area since the 1960s, published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2015. After World War II, the greater Boston area experienced dramatic economic and demographic decline. The population plummeted from 801,444 in 1950 to 641,071 in 1970, a 20% drop. Since the 1980s, however, the city has witnessed a renaissance, a phenomenon similar to what has occurred in many other major urban areas. Marilynn S. Johnson argues that immigrants have contributed to this renaissance in numerous yet often overlooked ways. She writes, "Although often told as a story of corporate restructuring, technological innovation and elite-led gentrification, Boston's metropolitan transformation required a far broader cast of characters."1

The background statistics are revealing. Boston has the sixth-highest proportion offoreign-born residents among the twenty-five largest U.S. cities. Between 1990 and 2010, Boston's foreign-born population grew from 114,597 to 167,311. Immigrants now account for 26.7% of the city's residents, up from 20% in 1990 and 13% in 1970. This is nearly twice the Massachusetts state percentage of14%. Some suburbs had an even higher percentage offoreign-born in 2010: Chelsea (45%), Malden (41%), and Lynn (30%). And East Boston had a population of over 50% foreign-born. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of Boston residents speaking a language other than English at home increased from 26% to 35%, with Spanish being the most common. In 2010, nearly one-tenth (9.5%) of all Boston residents had limited English proficiency, up from 6% in 1990.1

Today's immigrants are far more diverse than in earlier waves ofimmigration. In Boston, the top countries oforigin for immigrants in 2011 were the Dominican Republic (10.1%), China (10.1%), Haiti (8.4%), Vietnam (5.0%), El Salvador (4.5%), Cape Verde islands (4.0%), Colombia (3.8%), Jamaica (3.7%), Brazil (2.8%), and Guatemala (2.6%). "Other" nationalities totaled 45%.ъ By 2016, Boston's ethnic and racial "minorities" had become the "majority," representing 50.5% of the city's total population. Ethnically, the three largest minority groups in Boston are African Americans (23.8%), Latinos (14.4%), and Asians (7.5%).4

Statewide, in 2015 nearly one in six Massachusetts residents was foreign born: the state's 1.1 million immigrants comprised 16.1% of the population. In addition, one in seven residents of the state (14.4%) was a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. For the commonwealth as a whole, the top countries of origin for immigrants were China (8.8%), the Dominican Republic (7.4%), India (6%), Brazil (5.6%), and Haiti (5.1%). One in five workers in Massachusetts is an immigrant, making up a vital part of the labor force in a range of industries.

Similar to the older Irish, Italian, and other European immigrant groups whose labor once powered the region's industrial economy, these newer migrants have been crucial in rebuilding the population, labor force, and metropolitan landscape of the New Boston. However, Johnson argues that the fruits of the new prosperity have not been equally shared. She begins her story in the 1960s. The Immigration Act of1965 was one of the most consequential pieces of Great Society legislation, opening the nation's doors to large-scale immigration from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Johnson, a professor of history at Boston College, is also a co-author o/What's New About the 'New Immigration': Traditions and Transformations in the United States Since 1965 (NY: Palgrave, 2014). Her research draws from a rich, multidisciplinary literature. She includes scholarly and journalistic work, archival research, and the oral histories of numerous individuals from various ethnic groups. This comprehensive and well-written study offers an impressive depth of historical and empirical data about today's Boston and its suburbs. …

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