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In The News: Looking Ahead

It will soon be that time of the decade again. In Spring 2000, the census enumerators will be making their appointed rounds gathering information needed to gauge the changes in the way we live and work that have taken place in the last ten years. But their findings, scheduled to be released in early 2001 shouldn't come as a complete surprise to New Yorkers or to others. So here's a preview...

New Wine and Old Bottles

The 2000 Census will show that the City's Y2K population will be just under 7.5 million, one to two percent greater than it was in 1990. In other words, another 100,000 to 200,000 residents will have been added to New York's already crowded streets, packed subways and hard-to-grow housing stock.

Rapid racial and ethnic changes and their consequences have been a constant theme over the past half century in New York, and in all of America's larger, older cities. In the past, racial and ethnic differences were primarily a white and black affair. But while blacks and whites shared a common national birthplace, they possessed radically different perspectives on what their respective rights and entitlements were and what role government might play in securing them. Conflicts over these matters reached a boiling point in the 1960s and 1970s. Though there is continued tension, more recently, new groups have inserted themselves into the City's political order and socio-economic structure. They have created a new demographic reality. Continuing attempts to impose the institutions and approaches developed around the classic black versus white struggles of the Civil Rights era as a framework for dealing with the needs and problems of the newcomers seems less than adequate. New situations require new thinking.

The Way We Look Now By 2000, over 40 percent of the City's population will be either Latino (30%+) or Asian (10%+). Latinos will have surpassed the number and share of (non-Latino) blacks. Though whites still represent the largest of the City's major racial /ethnic groupings, their share is likely to be down to 37% by 2000 (and falling). Demographers note: Latinos are not a racial group, but are defined as having immigrated from a Spanish-speaking country or having a parent or grandparent who at one time did the same.

The emergence of this new demographic reality in New York and in a handful of what are now being called Gateway metros (Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco) is the result of the increasing scale and diversity of immigration into the US during the last thirty years. This process was initiated in the mid-1960s as the somewhat unintended result of a major liberalization of the laws governing immigration into the US. There is no gainsaying the role that immigration has come to play in population growth. In the 1950s, immigration accounted for well under 10% of the country's net population growth. Between 1990 and 1998, the comparable figure was just over 30%. And this only measures immigration's direct impact on population growth, without taking into account the disproportionately large contribution of immigrant families to the nation's birth rate. It is also worth noting that once within the US, immigrants still concentrate in only a handful of places, mostly in Gateway metro areas like New York. The tristate New York Metro area represents about 7-8% of the US population, and has attracted 20% of the immigrants entering the country between 1992 and 1997.

The 2000 Census is likely to show that 40% of the City's population is foreign born, up sharply from its 1990 level of just under 30%. In New York's case, the shift from a native born to an increasingly foreign born population is a pervasive one, affecting all the City's major groups. For example, around 30% of the City's whites and blacks are foreign born. The comparable figures at the national level are in the neighborhood of five percent. New York's still substantial foreign born white population consists of two distinctive elements. One of them is an aging, waning cohort of people who arrived as young adults or as children between the 1920s and the 1950s. Another one consists of a growing number of recently arrived Jews from Russia and the newly-independent states of Soviet Union. New York's distinctive and once again fast-growing foreign born black population is drawn from the countries of the Caribbean and includes Haitians and English-speaking Jamaicans, Trinidadians and Guyanese. Over 40 % of the City's Latino community is foreign born. The Latino native born population is still overwhelmingly dominated by persons who were either born in Puerto Rico, and hence automatically became US citizens, or whose parents or grandparents were. But like native born blacks and whites, the ranks of the City's Puerto Rican are being thinned. Last but not least, four-fifths of the City's fast expanding Asian population is foreign born.

However, just looking at the proportion of the population that is foreign born dramatically understates the extent to which immigration in the current period has and is transforming the life and look of the city. If one counts as foreign the children born in the US to a foreign mother or father the so-called second generation then the proportion of the City's population that is of foreign stock by 2000 will probably be close to two-thirds of the total. How different is NYC in this respect? Quite a bit. The comparable national figure will be around 20 percent. Indeed, the likely outcome of the 2000 Census will highlight how demographically unique New York really is.

Emanuel Sounds Off:

The clock is ticking on the real life drama set in motion by the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. By 2001, strict term limits are to be imposed on the remaining recipients of public assistance. While the City's welfare rolls have indeed plummeted -- a joint function of policy and a very strong local economy -- the specter of what might well be a substantial core of adults, many with children, who are simply unemployable is impossible to wish away. In any case, data indicating what progress is being made in moving this ill-favored group to the ranks of the employed is needed. This is, of course, no easy matter. But from an informational standpoint, it is difficult at this time to tease out the barest facts of what is going on in the controversial world of welfare reform. Evaluations, as they are somewhat generously called, are thick on the ground. For the most part they are carried out by groups heavily invested in opposing or espousing welfare reform's timetable and assumptions. But they add more heat than light to clarifying the issue of exactly has happened. Some plain English narrative would do a world of good at this point. The United Way of New York City used to provide such a narrative. Until 1997, it had been preparing for the City's Human Resources Administration a straight arrow, nonpolitical statistical compendium describing the historical trends in the City's low income population and in their utilization of social services. This effort has been discontinued for reasons which are not altogether clear, but is probably related to the Giuliani administration's penchant for limiting access to information which it believes could be used against it by its critics. That's not only a pity, but short sighted: This data base could provide a useful context against which to judge the consequences of welfare reform. It should be reinstated posthaste.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.

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