Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Census Bureau history lesson: The immigrant population over time

Photo courtesy of Erica Marshall/Flickr (Creative Commons)

For those who love statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau has compiled a nifty list of historical census facts regarding the nation's foreign-born population, as hot of a newsworthy topic today as it was in the nineteenth century.

Here's nifty historical fact number one:

The foreign-born population accounted for 10 percent of the total U.S. population in 1850, and 15 percent in1890. Today, the foreign-born comprise 12 percent of the population.

In other words, immigrants are no bigger part of the population than they were 111 years ago, and comprise only a slightly larger piece of the pie today than they did before the Civil War.

Also in the numbers, though, is one telling difference that may well influence perceptions: The ethnic and racial makeup of the foreign born.

From another item on the list:

Between 1960 and 2000, the percentage of foreign-born U.S. residents of European descent decreased from 75 to 16 percent. At the same time, the percentage of foreign-born U.S. residents born in Latin America increased from 6 to 51 percent.

The census stats provide a revealing little window into how we perceive immigrants and immigration, past and present. There are some good links, too, including one that leads to the 1850 census.