Institute for Immigration Research

Metro Areas by the Numbers (D.C., Virginia, Maryland)

The second installment of the Metro Areas by the Numbers project, is titled “Immigration by the Numbers: Observing the rise of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area as an Immigrant Gateway.  Historically, the metropolitan areas of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Philadelphia have served as gateways for immigrants to the United States. However, new immigrant gateways have emerged in recent decades. The metropolitan area of Washington DC is one of them. We’ve chosen to document the rise of this metropolitan area as a new immigrant gateway in order to provide demographic, economic, and social data to government and non-profit organizations so they can better understand and serve the immigrant populations that live in that area.

DC by the numbers

According to our estimations, the immigrant population of the Washington DC metropolitan area grew by a factor of 4.5 between the years 1980 and 2010. In 1980, approximately 12.5 percent of the metropolitan population was foreign-born, which amounted to about 250,000 individuals. By 2010, approximately 21.4 percent of the metropolitan population was foreign-born, which amounted to an estimated 1.14 million individuals.

Immigrant participation in the full-time workforce of the metropolitan area increased by a factor of 6.3 during the same time period. In 1980, about 8.4 percent of the full-time workforce, or 82,500 workers, were foreign-born. By 2010, 25.8 percent of the full-time workforce were foreign-born, which amounted to approximately 523,573 workers.

As the immigrant population expanded, its national origins also shifted. In 1980, the top five most common nations of birth were Germany, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India. By 2010, the top five most common nations of birth were El Salvador, India, Korea, Mexico, and Vietnam. More data depicting the shift in national origins is offered in the table below.

It is also interesting to note that the languages commonly spoken among immigrant households in the metropolitan area shifted between 1980 and 2010. In 1980, the top five most common languages spoken among immigrant households were English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and French. However, by 2010 Spanish was the most common language spoken among immigrant households, followed by English, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Moreover, other languages, such as Ahmaric and Kru, were commonly spoken among immigrant households in 2010. The table below provides data on the top ten languages spoken among immigrant households in 1980 and 2010.

In terms of educational attainment, the immigrant population of the Washington DC metropolitan area became better educated between 1980 and 2010. This is evidenced by the growth of bachelor or graduate degree recipients among immigrants who were at least 27 years old. In 1980, approximately 34.7 percent of immigrants who were at least 27 years old had attained one of these degrees. By 2010, that percentage increased to approximately 41.9.

Our research brief offers further data depicting the rise of the Washington DC metropolitan area as an immigrant gateway. You can find it on the IIR website under the Metro Areas by the Numbers heading. Also, stay tuned for our next installment in the Metro Areas by the Numbers project. It will discuss the ways in which the immigrant population of the Detroit metropolitan area changed between 1980 and 2010.

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