Last week, the Census Bureau released its 2019 estimates for MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) population growth. Dallas/Ft. Worth remains America’s fastest growing numerically, having added 117,000 people between July 2018 and July 2019. But it no longer holds the lead in North America. Metro Toronto, which added 139,000 for the same period per Statistics Canada, is now growing faster than any U.S. Metro.
With cold weather and a smaller national population, Toronto can’t draw domestic migrants the way Dallas does. But it is unparalleled within North America for attracting immigrants. 105,000 people immigrated to the Toronto CMA (Census Metropolitan Area) in the twelve months through July 2019, nearly twice as many as immigrated to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, which attracted 58,000 immigrants, the most in the U.S.. Canada overall attracted over 300,000 immigrants, or just over half as many as the 595,000 who came to the U.S.. As a result, new immigrants represented nearly 4/5ths of 1% of Canada’s total population, compared to less than 1/5th of 1% of America’s total.
Immigration offers a great pathway for both America’s and Canada’s future growth, particularly when global immigration is trending heavily towards English speaking metros. The language plays a key role in the expansion of the services trade, many sectors of which are growing faster than the goods trade. While English is not the world’s leading native language, it is the world’s most spoken. More than twice as many people globally speak English than Spanish, and four times as many speak English as speak French. Not surprisingly then, Toronto, Vancouver, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Sydney, and Melbourne, are among the global leaders in share of population born internationally. Paris, while a worldly city, has fewer foreign born residents as a share of its population than Phoenix does.
While the language has helped the U.S. avoid the nearly zero population growth being experienced in France, Portugal, and Italy, America is also no longer growing faster than the U.K.. U.S. immigration slowed after the Great Recession, and has decelerated further since the 2016 election. As a result, our population growth has slowed to just 0.5%, while Australia and Canada have sustained 1.0-1.5% annual growth.
Many Americans like to claim that their ancestors came over legally. And they’re often correct. But that’s also because there were no laws against immigration until the 1870s, and there weren’t particularly strong ones until the 1920s. Canada wasn’t an even a country until 1867, and much of its attraction in the 19th century was its loyal connection to Britain, not its job market. But this was a long time ago, and now Toronto is thriving while American metros a few hours away along the Great Lakes are shrinking, in part because they are attracting so few immigrants.
While many debate the pros and cons of immigration, there’s little debate that America has a consumer-driven economy, more so than much of the rest of the world. Consumers drive 68% of U.S. GDP, compared to 50–60% in most other developed countries. And it’s hard to grow a consumer-dependent economy when the number of consumers is barely growing, or as is the case in an increasing number of American metros, declining.
With this latest Census update, over one quarter of all metro areas tracked by the bureau saw population decreases. Metro Baltimore and St. Louis saw their populations flip from going up to going down, while Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit continued to lose people. While New York, LA, and Chicago lost people as well, they also have high end service economies to buffer the decline.
There are plenty of urbanist ideas on how to improve our Rust Belt metros. And there is no easy fix. But think about this: a metro area less than one hundred miles from Buffalo is adding the equivalent of the City of Buffalo’s population every two years, mostly due to immigrants.