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Visualizing Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration

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Animation: Visualizing Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration

America is a nation of immigrants, and though the country has seen a lot of new arrivals over the past two centuries, the rate of immigration has been far from steady.

War, famine, economic boom and bust, religious persecution, and government intervention have all caused wild swings in the rate of immigration from countries around the world.

Today’s striking animation, by Max Galka, is a great way to see changes in immigration over time. Inflows from specific countries rise and fall, and the top three countries of origin change numerous times over the years.

Below, is another way to look at the ebb and flow of American immigration since the early 1800s.

U.S. Immigration Charts
An important note. This data excludes forced migration (slavery) and illegal immigration.

Let’s look at the “waves” in more detail.

Wave one: The Old Immigration

From 1820 to 1870, over 7.5 million immigrants made their way over to the United States, effectively doubling the young country’s population in only half a decade.

Ireland, which was in the throes of the Potato Famine, saw half its population set sail for the U.S. during that time. This wave of immigration can still be seen in today’s demographics. There are now more Irish-Americans than there are Irish nationals.

The magnetic pull of the New World was profoundly felt in Germany as well. Growing public unrest in the region, caused by heavy taxation and political censorship, culminated in the German revolutions of 1848-49. Faced with severe hardship at home, millions of Germans made their way to America over the 1800s. It’s estimated that one-third of the total ethnic German population in the world now lives in the United States.

Wave Two: Gold Rush

Much of America’s early immigration was from various points in Europe, but there was one prominent exception: China.

The discovery of gold in California inspired Chinese workers to seek their fortune in America. After a crop failure in Southern China in 1852, tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants flooded into San Francisco.

Although the State of California was making millions of dollars off its Foreign Miners Tax, sentiment towards Chinese workers began to sour. Gold mines were being tapped out and white Californians blamed the Chinese for driving wages down.

Chinamen are getting to be altogether too plentiful in this country.

– John Bigler, Governor of California (1852-1856)

By 1882, the newly enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act had a chilling effect on Chinese immigration. The Exclusion Act has the dubious distinction of being the only American law barring a specific group from immigrating to the United States.

Wave Three: The New Immigration

The wave of immigration leading into the 20th century is referred to as The New Immigration.

In 1890, Ellis Island was designated as the main point of entry for newcomers entering the United States. In 1907 alone, Ellis Island processed a staggering 1,285,349 immigrants. To put this number in perspective, if all of those people settled in one place, they would’ve formed America’s fourth largest city almost overnight.

This massive influx of people into New York had profound implications on the city itself. In 1910, Manhattan’s population density was an astronomical 101,548 humans per square mile.

The immigrants arriving during this period – heavily represented by Italians, Hungarians, and Russians – were seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. Certain industries, such as steel, meat-packing, and mining, were staffed by many new arrivals to the country.

During this time, one in four American workers were foreign-born.

The Great Depression

The National Origins Act’s quota system, which took effect in 1929, essentially slammed the door on most immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Shortly after, the Great Depression further put a damper on immigration that would last well into the 20th century.

Wave Four: Mexico

After decades of sluggish immigration, the United States’ percentage of foreign-born citizens reached a low of 4.7% in 1970. But that was all about to change.

During the next decade, the number of states where Mexico was the top country of origin doubled in a single decade, and Mexicans became the dominant foreign-born population in the country. This migration was fueled by the Latin American debt crisis and later by NAFTA. The influx of cheap corn into Mexico caused hundreds of thousands of Mexicans from rural areas to search for more favorable economic opportunities. America was the obvious choice, particularly during the economic expansion of the 1990s.

U.S. Hispanic Population Map

This wave of immigration has shifted the country’s demographics considerably. Today, nearly one in five people in the United States are Hispanic.

Current Trends

Immigration trends are continually evolving, and America’s newest immigrants are often more likely to come from China or India. In fact, both countries surpassed Mexico as countries of origin for immigrants arriving in the U.S. in 2013. Today, the trend is even more pronounced.

us immigration top 5

Recent immigration numbers indicate that Asian immigrants will continue to shift America’s demographics in a new direction. Perhaps a new wave in the making?

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Money

Visualizing the Wealth of Americans Under 40 (1989-2023)

The wealth of American Millennials hit historic highs after the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This line chart shows the growth of wealth for Americans under 40 over the last 40 decades.

Visualizing the Wealth of Americans Under 40 (1989-2023)

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Millennials have been often referred to as a “broke generation.” Whether in conversations or on the news, it is common to hear how those born in the 1980s or 1990s are struggling in today’s economy, particularly when it comes to entering the housing market or saving for retirement.

However, data shows that the wealth of Americans under 40 years old has hit historic highs after the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that millennials have accumulated more wealth by their 40s than previous generations.

To illustrate this, the graphic above shows the average wealth per household, adjusted for inflation, for Americans under 40 years old from Q4 1989 to Q4 2023 (in December 2023 dollars). The data is sourced from the Federal Reserve and accessed via the Center for American Progress.

Post-Pandemic Recovery

Data indicates that younger Americans have reaped the most benefits from the strong economic recovery after the pandemic, enjoying low unemployment rates and rapid wage growth.

The average wealth of U.S. households under 40 was $259,000 in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2023, compared to $164,000 in Q4 1989 and $182,000 in Q4 2000.

QuarterAverage Wealth for Those Under 40 (USD)
Q4 1990152K
Q4 1995146K
Q4 2000182K
Q4 2005184K
Q4 2010100K
Q4 2015148K
Q4 2020231K
Q4 2023259K

Looking specifically at millennial households, inflation-adjusted wealth has more than doubled during the same period.

The increase in younger Americans’ wealth is not concentrated in a single area. Average housing wealth—house values minus mortgage debt—rose by $22,000 from 2019 to 2023. Younger Americans also saw gains in liquid assets, such as bank deposits and money market mutual funds, business ownership, and financial assets, mainly stocks and mutual funds.

Additionally, non-housing debt, such as credit card and student loan debt, fell for this age group after the pandemic.

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