Migration within the United States: Role of Race-Ethnicity
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Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs 2005 (2005) 207-262

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Migration within the United States:

Role of Race-Ethnicity

University of Michigan and Brookings Institution
McMaster University

Minority racial and ethnic groups, which account for an ever larger share of the U.S. population, are unevenly distributed across states.1 The concentration of Hispanic and Asian populations in New York, California, and a few other large states is related to their recent immigrant status and attachments to coethnic communities in those areas.2 Yet recent U.S. Census 2000 results suggest greater geographic dispersal for these two groups.3 The African American population, while less concentrated than these other race-ethnic groups, is demonstrating an increased tendency to locate in the South, countering a long-standing movement in the reverse direction.4

The prominence of race-ethnic minorities in the U.S. population and their changing distribution and dispersal patterns calls for explicit attention to their roles in internal migration models. The history of such models has shown increasing elaboration over past decades. Early migration researchers conceptualized the migration process as a largely labor market phenomenon, where migration responds mainly to the spatial disparities in economic opportunities. The typical model explaining origin-to-destination specific flows [End Page 207] of migrants included such factors as wage level and unemployment rate, together with distance, origin, and destination populations.5 Later, quality of life factors, particularly those related to climate, were introduced into these models as movement from the Snow Belt to Sun Belt became more widespread.6 More recently, the wide disparity in housing costs across states has entered the calculus of movers such that it also should be considered in models of internal migration within the United States.7

While U.S. migration patterns adhere to well-known selectivities according to personal characteristics such as age and education, it is increasingly important to take cognizance of the ways race and ethnic background affect migration in contemporary America. In this paper we address the role of race-ethnicity in two ways. First, we assess the role of what we call cultural constraints as they affect departures and destination choices for different race-ethnic groups.8 Cultural constraints shape migration patterns for these ethnic groups due to the groups' needs for social support networks, kinship ties, and access to informal employment opportunities that tend to be available in areas that house large concentrations of coethnics.

The second aspect of the migration process that has potential implications for race-ethnic movement is the impact that low-skilled immigration exerts on domestic out-migration from urbanized, high immigration states. A good deal of research subsequent to the 1980 and 1990 U.S. Censuses points to potential linkages between immigration and domestic out-migration.9 Although this is often viewed to be largely a potential labor substitution impact, wherein low-skilled domestic migrants are in competition with new immigrants, the impact was shown to be especially strong for low-skilled whites.10 More recently, higher housing costs, along with more diverse populations in these areas, suggest the latter may be promoting a more multiethnic middle-class flight.

While these issues are highlighted in our analysis, we also examine race-ethnic interactions with the standard labor market as well as climatic factors associated with interstate migrant departure and destination choice. [End Page 208]

Finally, we note that while our analysis of interstate migration is relevant to policymakers interested in the causes of state-level demographic shifts, it is suggestive of migration dynamics occurring across metropolitan areas. Clearly, metropolitan areas are more coincident with labor market areas, which are the most appropriate geographic units for analyzing long-distance domestic migration. Many of our findings are also appropriate for making inferences about intermetropolitan migration. We also examine the way that our findings might need to be modified for making inferences regarding migration across metropolitan areas.

Cultural Constraints on Race-Ethnic Migration

The impact of same-race residents as an inhibitor to out-migration...