Voting & Demographics

The growth in the immigrant population has helped to strengthen and remake America over the last two decades. Today, as thousands of baby boomers retire each day, working-age immigrants are filling gaps in the labor market, paying billions of dollars in taxes that help our entitlement programs survive, and buying homes in communities that would otherwise be in decline. Millions of immigrants have also earned U.S. citizenship and the right to vote while millions more are estimated to be eligible to naturalize.

Immigrant Population Growth

Both the number and the share of immigrants in America are increasing, with the U.S. Census Bureau projecting that between 2027 and 2038 international migration will be the primary driver of U.S. population growth for the first time in two centuries.1 The trend is already underway. Between 1990 and 2014, the number of immigrants living in America more than doubled. By 2014, more than one in eight Americans were foreign-born. Immigrants play a particularly important role in California, where they make up more than one out of every four residents.

1 U.S. Census Bureau, “International Migration is Projected to Become Primary Driver of U.S. Population Growth for First Time in Nearly Two Centuries,” press release (2013), accessed July 30, 2014. Available online.

Key Stats
19.8 million: Number of foreign-born residents in the United States, 1990.
31.1 million: Number of foreign-born residents in the United States, 2000.
39.9 million: Number of foreign-born residents in the United States, 2010.
44.4 million: Number of foreign-born residents in the United States, 2017.
Share of Population, Foreign-Born
1990 7.9%
2000 11.1%
2010 12.9%
2017 13.6%

Mitigating Baby Boomer Retirement

The ratio of seniors to working-age adults in America has remained relatively constant since 1980, at about 240 seniors for every 1,000 workers. With the Baby Boomers’ retirement, however, the ratio is poised to jump a stunning 67 percent in the next two decades, to 411 seniors for every 1,000 workers.2 Already, less than half the U.S.-born population is working-age, or between the ages of 25 and 64. Meanwhile, almost three-quarters of the foreign-born population fall into that age bracket, allowing them to make important contributions to both the labor force and U.S. tax coffers.

2 Dowell Myers, “Immigrants’ Contributions in an Aging America,” Community Banking, no. Sum (2008): 3–5.

Age Breakdown of Select Populations, 2014
Native-Born Foreign-Born
0-24 35.9% 13.3%
25-64 49.5% 72.4%
65+ 14.5% 14.3%
States with the Largest Gap Between Share of Native-Born and Foreign-Born Populations that are Working-Aged, 2014
Share Immigrants, 25-64 Share Natives, 25-64
California 74.2% 45.5%
Texas 75.2% 47.3%
Utah 72.9% 45.7%
Nevada 74.5% 48.4%
New Jersey 74.1% 48.3%
Georgia 75.6% 50.3%
Illinois 74.9% 49.8%
Arkansas 74.2% 49.5%
Nebraska 73.4% 49.1%
North Carolina 74.6% 50.5%

Housing and Entitlement Contributions

Because immigrants are far more likely to be working-age, they play an important role contributing to the entitlement programs that help seniors as they age. One NAE study found that between 1996 and 2011 immigrants contributed $182.4 billion more to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund—the core trust fund in the program—than was expended on their care. Immigrants also have made up roughly one in seven homebuyers in recent years, often purchasing the homes of Baby Boomers as they retire.

Key Stats
29.7 percent: Share of U.S. homeowners who were seniors, 2014.
14.1 percent: Share of individuals who bought a home within the last 4 years who were immigrants.
15.7 million: Number of immigrants who have bought homes within the last 4 years.
Amount Immigrants Contributed to Entitlement Programs, 2014
Social Security $123.7B
Medicare $32.9B
Total $156.6B
States where Immigrants Made up the Largest Share of Homebuyers, 2010-2014
State Share
California 31.7%
Nevada 25.1%
New Jersey 23.8%
New York 20.6%
Hawaii 20.5%
Florida 20.3%

Fueling Growth in New Destination States

Before 1990, nearly three-quarters of immigrants lived in one of six gateway states: California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.3 By 2010, those states’ share had started to drop significantly, to 65 percent, as immigrants increasingly began settling in new-destination states, such as Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and Washington. As immigrants move into new states, they help offset brain drain and population decline, often filling positions that would have remained vacant otherwise. The more than 10,000 immigrants that moved to North Dakota between 2010 and 2014, for instance, helped fill labor gaps created when locals took well-paid jobs during the shale oil boom.4

3 The Pew Charitable Trusts, “U.S. Immigration: National and State Trends and Actions” (November 2013). Available online.
4 Jack Nicas, “North Dakota City Draws Foreign Workers,” Wall Street Journal, 2012, sec. Business. Available online.

States with Largest Percent Increase in Number of Immigrants, 2010-2014
Number of Foreign-Born Residents, 2014 Growth of Foreign-Born Population, 2010-2014
North Dakota 27,044 62.4%
Wyoming 23,437 41.4%
Alaska 55,724 19.4%
Montana 23,655 19.1%
West Virginia 26,821 19.0%
District of Columbia 92,820 16.2%
Minnesota 437,544 15.7%
Idaho 102,903 15.1%
Delaware 79,720 14.1%
Virginia 1.0M 11.9%

Voting Power and Citizenship

As more immigrants naturalize and become eligible to vote, they will continue to gain power at the voting booth. Nationally, almost 20 million foreign-born citizens were eligible to vote in the 2016 election. By 2020, that figure is projected to rise to 21.2 million. In some states, foreign-born voters are already capable of deciding elections. In Nevada, for instance, almost 256,000 immigrants were eligible to vote in 2016, a number more than nine times higher than Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the state that year.

Key Stats
19.9 million: Number of eligible immigrant voters, 2016.
21.2 million: Estimated number of eligible immigrant voters, 2020.
11.2 million: Number of immigrants registered to vote, 2014.
Eligible Immigrant Voters Versus Number of Votes that Decided Presidential Result in Key States, 2016
Number of Eligible Foreign-Born Voters 2016 Margin
Arizona 362,499 91,234
Colorado 209,872 136,386
Florida 2.1M 112,911
Michigan 321,246 10,704
Nevada 255,708 27,202
New Hampshire 40,874 2,736
New Mexico 74,101 65,568
North Carolina 262,536 173,315
Ohio 231,599 446,841
Wisconsin 119,069 22,748
Immigrants Eligible to Naturalize in Selected States and the United States, 2017
Number of Immigrants Eligible for Naturalizaton
Arizona 165,170
California 1,778,200
Colorado 87,925
Florida 556,454
Georgia 134,916
Iowa 25,553
Illinois 262,871
Maryland 124,728
Massachusetts 202,432
Michigan 103,487
Minnesota 67,632
New York 676,189
North Carolina 108,407
Ohio 72,294
Pennsylvania 117,886
Texas 700,553
Utah 33,845
Virginia 130,538
U.S. Total 6,610,177

Diversifying the Electorate

Although the white working class played a significant role in the 2016 election, demographic trends mean they will see their influence decline in future electoral contests. While only 11.2 percent of the current U.S. senior population identifies as Hispanic or Asian-American, 27.8 percent of those graduating from high school in the next decade do.5 This means that between 2015 and 2024, the share of the electorate that is white is projected to decline by 4.4 percent. The share that will be both white and working class will see even steeper declines, falling by 5.5 percent. Given this reality, politicians hoping to remain competitive in key states in the future will need to ensure that they do not ignore the needs of Hispanic and Asian voters, many of whom are immigrants.

5 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

Key Stats
88 percent: Share of voters, white, 1992.
70 percent: Share of voters, white, 2016.
8.2 million: Number of Hispanic and Asian citizens who will turn 18 by 2020 and become eligible to vote.
4.2 million: Number of Hispanic and Asian residents projected to naturalize by 2020, gaining voting eligibility.
Projected Decline in the Share of Electorate that is White Working Class in Key States, 2015-2024
2015 2024 Decline
Nevada 44.7% 37.6% -6.9%
Pennsylvania 58.1% 52.0% -6.2%
Florida 44.3% 38.5% -5.8%
Arizona 44.6% 39.1% -5.5%
New Hampshire 63.5% 58.1% -5.4%
Wisconsin 62.5% 57.1% -5.3%
Ohio 61.9% 57.1% -4.8%
Michigan 58.1% 53.7% -4.4%

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