Rapidly growing numbers of black immigrants have reshaped the overall black population in the United States in recent decades, particularly in Washington and other cities with large U.S.-born African American communities, a new report says.
A record 3.8 million foreign-born blacks now live in the United States, the Pew Research Center reported Thursday. The influx means that the share of foreign-born blacks, largely from Africa and the Caribbean, has grown from 3.1 percent of the black population in 1980 to 8.7 percent in 2013. By 2060, 16.5 percent of the U.S. black population will be foreign-born, the report says.
The report highlights the degree to which America’s black population is less homogenous than in previous generations, experts said.
“I think when you’re talking about the black population, it’s increasingly important to be able to pull apart the distinctions between U.S.-born blacks of several generations compared to the new immigrants,” said William H. Frey, a demographer and senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.
“Just because they’re new immigrants,” Frey added, “they have different needs and patterns, probably in terms of language in many cases, in terms of assimilation. And so they probably shouldn’t be confused with native-born blacks in lots of ways, who have their own needs to be addressed.”
Frey, in his 2014 book “Diversity Explosion,” estimated that black immigrants made up about 10 percent of all blacks and differed from U.S.-born blacks in important socioeconomic respects. That was also reflected in the Pew report, which said black immigrants tend to be older, more likely to have a higher education and a higher income, and less likely to live in poverty.
The impact of black immigration has been particularly strong in cities that already had some of the nation’s largest black populations. For instance, in the District, 15 percent of the black population was born outside the United States. In Miami, 34 percent of the black community was born elsewhere. In New York’s metro area, that figure is 28 percent. Nearly half of the influx has occurred since 2000, the report says.
Most of the nation’s 40 million U.S.-born blacks trace their heritage to African ancestors who were brought here as slaves. The report also notes that blacks accounted for nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population at the end of the 18th century.
The most recent wave of black immigration began in the 1960s after U.S. immigration laws were changed. In recent years, the pace has increased. The most recent Census Bureau estimates show that immigration accounted for 25 percent of the growth in the U.S. black population between 2010 and July 2013, Frey said.
Half of the black immigrants arrived from the Caribbean, the Pew report says. The largest source is Jamaica, with 682,000, followed by Haiti, with 586,000. Jamaican immigrants make up 18 percent of the black population in the United States; those from Haiti represent about 15 percent of the U.S. black population.
But a rapidly growing proportion of foreign-born blacks who arrived in the United States in recent years came from Africa, led almost entirely by immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, the report says. Nigeria and Ethiopia rank first and second, respectively, in the number of African immigrants in the United States. Many sub-Saharan immigrants — 28 percent — were refugees or others seeking asylum.
About 8 percent of black immigrants came from South or Central America, the report says.
In terms of socioeconomic profiles, foreign-born blacks have a median age of 42, compared with 29 for U.S.-born blacks. Twenty-six percent have a college education, compared with 19 percent of native-born blacks, and black immigrants are less likely to live in poverty (20 percent vs. 28 percent) and have higher incomes. About 48 percent of black immigrants who are 18 or older are also married, compared with 28 percent of blacks born here, a finding that is likely related to the higher median age among immigrants.
Pew’s report, based on census data, focuses on the rising number of foreign-born blacks, those who were born outside the United States, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Their race was defined as “black” or “mixed race black” on Census Bureau surveys.