Prosperity Watch Issue 31, No. 2: Immigrants are a Growing Share of North Carolina's Population, Vital to Economic Success

North Carolina benefits greatly from the economic contributions of its immigrant populations who play a vital role as workers, entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers. Immigrants are not only present in communities throughout the Tar Heel state, but they represent a growing share of the state’s total population. And in the coming decades, the economic benefits of immigration will continue to loom large as North Carolina faces workforce and budget challenges resulting from a rapidly aging population.

In 2011, North Carolina ranked 14th highest among all states for absolute number of foreign-born residents. There were more than 708,000 foreign-born people in the state, representing 7.3 percent of the population and 9.8 percent of the workforce. Foreign-born includes all people who live in the United States but were born in another county, including documented and undocumented immigrants, refugees, and temporary residents such as temporary workers and students.

The latest data available indicate that the presence of foreign-born persons varies widely county to county, with the largest urban counties housing the greatest concentration of immigrants in the state (see the map below). Of all of North Carolina’s 100 counties, Durham County has the largest share of immigrants at 14 percent of its population, followed by Orange and Wake counties. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the smallest share of immigrants are located in the state’s Northeastern counties, comprising less than one percent of the total population in Bertie and Gates counties.  

Compared to three decades ago, immigrants are a growing share of the state’s total population. In 1990, just 1.7 percent of Tar Heels were foreign-born—a figure that more than doubled to reach 5.3 percent by 2000 and more than quadrupled to reach 7.3 percent by 2011. As North Carolina deals with a rapidly aging population and other demographic shifts affecting its ability to compete in the future, immigrants—who increase the labor force and customer base—are likely to play an increasingly important role in the state’s economy.

Learn more about key economic and demographic trends among immigrants living in North Carolina and its 100 counties with this new interactive map launched by the NC Justice Center.

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