One of the surprise findings of the 2010 Census is that Hispanics, like other minorities, are abandoning the inner cities and moving to the suburbs in search of a less crowded more pleasant lifestyle. They are also moving to more states and are a lot less concentrated than they were decades ago.
“Now immigrants are living in a lot of places where there were no immigrants 20 or 30 years ago,” Audrey Singer, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, told the Associated Press.
Singer said the foreign-born population in the suburban U.S. has surged over the past decade and then has branched out to areas even further from urban centers. She said she envisions the trend continuing through this decade.
Demographers agree. Use Chicago as an example, but it is happening all over the nation.
In its story of the suburbs of Chicago, the Associated Press tells the story of a nation where Hispanics are less concentrated in the inner cities of some large metropolitan areas, in the southwest states of the nation, in Florida, California and New York. Their population has grown all over the country, across most of the states in the union and spread out to suburbs and in some cases to the exurbs.
Take the case of Fernando Molina, According to the AP, when he left central Mexico to move to Illinois he was searching for affordable housing, job opportunities and established Hispanic neighborhoods with grocery stores, bakeries and clothing shops.
He didn’t move to Chicago, but instead he went to Aurora, Ill. which is now the second largest city in Illinois. The population of Aurora, in itself has grown by 55,000 in the last decade and of these 35,000 are Hispanics.
Chicago, about 40 miles to the west of Aurora, used to be the magnet. Now it is this new city, a suburb of a suburb which has become a Little Mexico in the state of Illinois.
“It’s like Mexico inside the United States,” said Molina, 37, a social worker who has lived in the U.S. for more than a decade and now assists other immigrant families. “You can find everything in the stores.”
According to the AP, Aurora, whose population is now 40 percent Hispanic, has surpassed Rockford to become Illinois’ second-largest city.
The story outlines a clear trend that shows new immigrants now heading directly to American suburbs instead of the inner city as prior migrations have done. The trend has grown in the last decade.
Demographers told AP that they aren’t just seeing it around Chicago. The same thing is happening around other major cities that have long been entry points for immigrants, such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even as the steep growth of the Hispanic population in Chicago tapered off, the arrival of Hispanics helped make Kendall County west of Aurora the fastest growing county in the U.S. for several years during the decade.
For many Hispanics in northern Illinois, Aurora supplanted Chicago as a cultural hub, and the growth has transformed smaller and smaller towns.
Take Montgomery, a few miles south of Aurora, for example. Its population tripled to more than 18,000 since 2000. Nearly 4,000 of the new residents were Hispanic. Ten years ago the Hispanic population of Montgomery was 700. Montgomery offered migrants such as Molina, his wife and their two young children more space, smaller schools and better housing options.
According to AP officials in some of these new growing towns say the growth has helped them weather the economic downturn, but in turn presented them with other challenges.
A much larger school district has had to struggle with overcrowding. East Aurora Schools, with about 13,500 students, gained more than 2,100 students over the decade. The average class size for first grade went from around 21 students in 2002 to 26 students in 2010, state education officials told the AP.
Still officials in Montgomery stress the positive. The population influx means a lower tax rate, a lower cost for services per resident and more federal funding. The schools have programs like the thriving dual-language immersion program in the Oswego Community Unit School District, which includes parts of Montgomery.
The AP story added that at a time when Rockford’s unemployment rate hovered at 14 percent, Aurora’s was 9 percent. The suburb’s Hispanic enclaves, which are generally concentrated around an aging city center with little new development, helped fill in housing and attract business, Aurora officials said.
“This really is a city of immigrants,” said Mayor Tom Weisner, who sees the Hispanic growth as a continuation of Aurora’s history, which for decades has attracted immigrants for manufacturing and railroad work.