Shaping Georgia: The Effects of Immigration, 1970-2020

By Leon F. Bouvier and John L. Martin on August 1, 1995


Georgia is now the eleventh largest state in the nation, according to the Census Bureau. Next to Florida, Georgia is the fastest growing state in the South. Over the past 25 years, the state's growth has been nearly double the overall rate of increase for the nation. But could that population growth be too much of a good thing? This paper addresses that question, and calls on Georgians to consider where the state is headed.

Table: Population and Immigration

Within the lifetime of a few Georgian old timers the state has surged from 2.2 million inhabitants at the turn of the 20th century to over seven million today -adding about three million since 1960. It is still growing rapidly. Georgians are rightfully proud that the state is so attractive to newcomers, but as conditions in the state change, so too do the benefits and costs of continued rapid growth.

The components of population growth are fertility, mortality and migration. This study focuses on migration. Domestic migration from other states has been increasing in recent years and this is contributing to the state's growth. However, our focus is on international migration and how it is beginning to cause changes in Georgia's population. Compared to the state's nearly doubling the national rate of population growth, Georgia's immigrant population grew more than four times faster than the national rate between 1970 and 1990. We also explore the prospects for the future, if these trends continue.

Population numbers are not easy to grasp, especially when the U.S. population now exceeds a quarter of a billion people. The population concentration varies greatly among different regions. The greatest increase is occurring in the West and the South, with immigration playing a major role in many of the states in these regions. Recent evidence suggests that this trend has a regional characteristic because rapid growth in one state has a spill-over effect on neighboring states. The Census Bureau now projects a U.S. population, based on current trends, of about 400 million by the middle of the next century, more than 50 percent more numerous than today. Whether this projection becomes reality will depend on actions we take today to shape our future.

This study looks first at national trends and then at those in Georgia. The discussion is divided into past and present conditions and future trends, and is intended to be indicative — not exhaustive — of relevant issues. For example, discussion of population changes in Atlanta could just as well focus on Savannah or Columbus, and could focus on metropolitan areas or on counties rather than a city. We hope others will accept an invitation to provide similar analysis for other jurisdictions. A concluding section outlines some of the options available to Georgians for reshaping the future they leave for their posterity.

National Population Change and Immigration

Immigration is widely recognized as a major factor in the population growth of California, Texas, and New York, and it also plays an important role in the growth of many other states. Yet, since immigration is a federal responsibility, states are limited in their options and must look primarily to the federal government to act when their interests are at stake. For this reason, before we explore the role of immigration in Georgia, we begin by looking at the present national context, at what it was 25 years ago, and what the effects would be if current trends continue for the next 25 years.

The Present

The nation's population has now reached about 263 million. Since the 1990 census, we have increased by 14 million people. About nine million have been added through natural increase (i.e., births less deaths) and another 5 million — 36 percent — through net international migration (i.e., immigrants minus emigrants). No records are kept on how many leave the country permanently nor how many enter illegally. It is generally agreed, however, that between 160,000 and 250,000 leave every year and more than 300,000 per year enter the country clandestinely. Thus, net immigration, whether legal or illegal, accounts for over one-third of recent population growth.

The Recent Past (1970-1995)

Over the past quarter of a century the American population has grown by about 30 percent, far higher than that of any other industrialized nation. (By contrast, Europe excluding the former Soviet Union grew by about 10 percent over the same 25 years.) At the 1970 census, 203 million people were enumerated. That number had surpassed 249 million by 1990, and by 1995, 60 million people had been added to the nation's population in just 25 years. This represents an annual average rate of growth of over 1.1 percent per year. If that rate is maintained, the population will double in less than 65 years.

According to a recent study prepared by the Urban Institute, if immigration had come to an end in 1970, the 1990 population of the United States would have been 229 million rather than 249 million. Thus, according to that study, new immigrants and their offspring accounted for 44 percent of all growth over those two decades.

During the 1970s, total legal immigration amounted to 4.5 million, it rose to 7.3 million during the 1980s, and, at current rates, it will be over 10 million during this decade. The pattern of immigration can be seen when examining the numbers and origin of immigrants arriving over the past four decades (see Figure 1). Because of this escalating immigration, we estimate that the number of foreign-born in 1995 has reached over 24 million (9.2% of the U.S. population).

Largely as a result of both the substantial increase in immigration and the changing sources of that influx, the ethnic composition of the United States has changed dramatically since 1970. Then, Non-Hispanic Whites (hereinafter simply Whites) comprised 85 percent of the nation's population. Now that share is down to less than 75 percent. The African-American proportion has remained more stable increasing from 10 to 12 percent. In contrast, the Hispanic share has doubled — from five to 10 percent — and Asians (together with Native Americans and Pacific Islanders) have seen their share grow from less than one percent in 1970 to close to four percent today.


Graph: Legal Immigration by Decade, 1951 to 1990


The Near-Term Future (1995-2020)

According to the Census Bureau's current medium projection, the population in 2000 will reach 275 million, 298 million ten years later, and 323 million in 2020. If both fertility and immigration remain at current levels, some 70 percent of the growth between 1995 and 2020 will be attributable to immigration, whether directly by the newcomers or indirectly by their U.S.-born children. Our projection is that by the end of this decade, the foreign born in the United States — not including the U.S.-born children of immigrants — will constitute over 10 percent of the U.S. population. Thus, immigration clearly is the prime factor shaping future population growth in the United States.

Current immigration will produce further rapid change in the nation's ethnic composition. The Census Bureau projects that, at the turn of the century, the proportion of Whites will continue to shrink (to 71.5%); Blacks will have increased only slightly (12.3%); and Hispanics and Asians will have grown (to 11.1% and 5.1 %, respectively). This trend will continue indefinitely. By 2020, the projected shares will be: Whites 63.9 percent; Blacks 13.3 percent; Hispanics 15.2 percent (replacing Blacks as the most numerous minority); and Asians 7.6 (see Figure 2). The nation will be on its way to becoming a "non-majority" society; i.e., where no single group is in the majority. Current trends in fertility and immigration will produce that "non-majority" result shortly after 2050.

Such rapid growth and change in the ethnic composition of the population pose an enormous challenge for the society. Over the past 25 years, the nation has added 60 million people; can it realistically accommodate another 60 million over the next 25 years and another 75 million in the following 30 years? Indeed, it is argued by a growing number of scientists that we are already overpopulated.


Graph: U.S. Population by Ethnic Shares, 1990 and 2020


Although the momentum built into the population precludes any near-term end to this expansion, this does not mean that the issue should be ignored. The conditions that will confront future generations will be shaped by decisions taken today. Fertility might realistically decline from its present average rate of 2.0 births per woman to 1.7 by 2000 and then gradually to 1.6 by 2020, but this by itself would not stop the population surge. That change plus lower immigration — to about 200-250,000 annually — would still result in a population of almost 300 million by 2020. This still would be a large increase to accommodate, but some 25 million fewer than if nothing changed. Beyond that date, however, a leveling off would begin.

These are issues affecting every American and every immigrant to our shores. Many are already feeling the pinch. And in the states most affected by immigration, steps are already underway to attempt to influence the future course of events without waiting for Washington to act.

Immigration Growth in Georgia

The population change in Georgia is not similar to that in the United States in general. While immigrant settlement in Georgia has increased dramatically in recent years, it started from such a small share of the population, it has yet to even reach the national average. A much larger share of the population growth during the 1980s came from migration from other states, as well as from natural increase.

In this section, we look at the current environment (i.e., 1990-1995), go back 25 years to 1970 and then look toward the next 25 years. Our purpose is to look at social and economic variables that are especially susceptible to changes in immigration and the number of foreign born in the population. What is the contribution of immigration to population growth and what does this mean for the state?

Current Conditions

Since the 1990 census, new immigrant settlement in Georgia has averaged over 10,000 per year. A USA Today report on July 1, 1995 put the annual average at 10,057, the 15th-ranked state for legal immigration in the country and about half again the level of immigration of a decade earlier. This figure understates the number of new immigrants because it excludes those Georgia residents who were converted from illegal alien status to legal residence as a result of the amnesty adopted in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). According to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) records, when these newly-legal immigrants are added, legal immigrant settlement soared in 1991 to 23,556 — including 11,668 Mexicans — and the average immigrant settlement rate rose to over 15,000 per year for the first four years of the 1990s.

These numbers are apart from illegal immigration. Although no reliable measure is available, we estimate on the basis of the 24,000 illegal immigrants who applied for the IRCA amnesty and current trends that over 33,000 illegal immigrants now reside in Georgia — about as many as the entire foreign-born population in 1970.

While immigration is at present a secondary contributor to population growth in the state, its remarkable growth in recent years suggests that Georgia may soon join other states where immigration is indeed a major component of population growth.

According to the 1990 census, 70.1 percent of the Georgia population were White; 26.8 percent were Black; 1.7 percent were Hispanic and 1.4 percent were Asian or Other (i.e. including Native Americans; hereinafter Asian). Since 1990, immigrants have continued to come primarily from Mexico, Central America and Asia, especially India and Vietnam. By mid-1995, the share of Whites and Blacks has fallen slightly as the share of Hispanics and Asians continues to grow.

About 173,000 foreign born lived in Georgia in 1990, slightly less than two-fifths of whom were naturalized U.S. citizens (see Table 2). That number has since increased to at least 200,000. Well over half of the foreign-born residents arrived since 1980.

Of the foreign born residing in Georgia in 1990, Mexico was the leading country of birth. The 20,309 Mexican born represented almost 12 percent of all of Georgia's immigrant population. Other leading sources included Germany, Korea and the United Kingdom (each of which had 10,000 or more), India, Canada, Vietnam and Japan (each with over 5,000), and Cuba and the Philippines (with over 4,000 each).

Within the 1990 average naturalization rate of 38.9 percent, the proportions vary widely from 65 percent for persons born in Germany to 18.4 percent for persons born in Mexico. A low rate of naturalization for immigrants who have come most recently is understandable given the five-year residency requirement for citizenship. However, other data show that even among long-term residents those from Latin American countries are less likely to become naturalized than their counterparts from Europe and Asia. It remains to be seen whether the current surge in naturalization applications will significantly alter this pattern.

Given Georgia's relatively small — though rapidly growing — foreign-born population, it should not be surprising to learn that most Georgians age 5 or over speak English at home. But the number not literate in English is growing. In 1990, 284,516 persons (5% of the population age 5 and over) spoke a language other than English at home. Almost 110,000 Georgia residents either spoke no English or spoke it very poorly. These numbers undoubtedly will have increased since 1990.

The 1990 census identified 2,366,615 Georgia households — 55.2 percent of which were traditional husband-wife (with or without children) families. That proportion is greater among Asians and Whites (66.3% and 66.5%, respectively) than among Hispanics (56.5%) and Blacks (35.7%). Family size averaged 3.16 persons. It was lower among Whites (3.0) but higher among all other groups: Asians 3.75; Blacks 3.5; and Hispanics 3.57.

Median family income was $33,529. Per capita income was $13,631. Just under 11.5 percent of the population had incomes below the poverty level. Family income variations by ethnicity were substantial. Median family incomes were: Whites $37,747; Asians $36,051; Blacks $20,956; and Hispanics $30,000. While only 7.3 percent of White families had incomes under the poverty level, the share for Blacks was 27.4 percent, for Hispanics 14.4 percent, and for Asians 10.4 percent.

The Recent Past (1970-1995)

In the 1980s, the population of Georgia grew by over one million, or 18.6 percent — 5,463,000 to 6,478,000. During the previous decade, the 1970s, the state increased by over 875,000, or 19.1 percent from 4,588,000 million in 1970. Over the quarter century since 1970, the population has grown by 2.5 million people.

Besides natural increase through more births than deaths, net migration between states also contributed to Georgia's population growth. Looking solely at the five-year period 1985-1990, Georgia received 804,566 newcomers from others states while 501,969 Georgians left the state. This resulted in a net in-migration of 302,597. Somewhat surprisingly, Georgia received nearly 30,000 more people from Florida than the latter state received from Georgia (119,073 compared to 91,891).

The contribution of immigration to recent population growth is also an increasing factor. Between 1970 and 1989, possibly 81,100 people immigrated to Georgia. Legal immigration averaged around 2,700 annually throughout the 1970s and then doubled to about 5,450 per year during the 1980s. These numbers recorded by the INS identify the state of intended residence of new immigrants. They do not account for alien residents who may have moved into or out of the state subsequently or died, nor do they account for illegal immigration. As a result of the increasing flow of new immigrants, the foreign-born population of the state has increased at over four times the rate of foreign-born population increase for the nation as a whole. It jumped over five-fold — from 33,000 in 1970 to 91,500 in 1980 and to 173,000 in 1990.

The source of this migration has also shifted. In 1970, the Mexican-born population of Georgia numbered 294. Just over 4,000 were foreign-born Asians. Together, Germany and the United Kingdom had 11,000 — one-third of all immigrants. Other leading countries of origin included Cuba (2,813) and Canada (2,362). Just 25 years ago, it is apparent that Georgia had very few foreign-born residents — one of each 139 Georgians.

By 1980, the foreign-born population had grown considerably reaching 91,500. Germany was the leading source country with 13,589 residents. Others included 6,935 from the United Kingdom, 5,319 from Canada, 5,117 from Korea, and 3,431 from Cuba. Mexico's contribution had increased five-fold, but still provided only 1,452. Immigrants then numbered one in each 60 Georgians

The 1980s provided the big influx of immigrants. The number of European-born hardly increased. But the Asian-born population soared. B y 1990, the foreign-born Vietnamese population had risen to 6,284, the Indian to 7,511, the Filipino to 4,160 and the Korean to 11,678. But it was the growth of the Mexican-born population that was most striking. It totaled 20,309 and was by far the largest foreign-born contingent in the state, well above Germany's 13,268. Over this decade the Mexican-born population had increased about fourteen-fold. By 1990, one out of every 41 Georgians was foreign born (see Figure 3).

At this point, it should be noted that the census has traditionally under-counted minorities, especially illegal immigrants. So it should be kept in mind that the immigrant population is actually larger than reflected in the census data. This is especially so for Mexicans, who were shown by the amnesty program to be the largest component of the state's illegal alien population.


Graph: Georgia's Foreign-born Population, 1970 to 1990


The changes in both the level and sources of immigration to Georgia are dramatic and cannot be minimized. While the foreign-born share of the state's population has only risen from 1.7 to 2.7 percent between 1980 and 1990, the rapid growth of the state's population overall tends to mask the even more rapid rise in the number of immigrants. And, even more significantly, the composition of that immigration has undergone a major shift.

The recent massive migration to the United States, overwhelmingly from Latin America and Asia, has contributed to shifts in the ethnic composition of Georgia. Since 1970, Georgia has become increasingly diverse, though remaining predominantly White and Black. The Hispanic population (whether born here or abroad) has grown from under 30,000 in 1970 to 101,000 in 1990. Its share of the population has nearly tripled from 0.6 percent in 1970 to 1.7 percent in 1990. It undoubtedly is still growing rapidly today.

From an insignificant 10,000 in 1970, the Asian population (including a small number of Native Americans and others) grew more than seven-fold to 72,000 in 1990. They comprised 1.4 percent of the state's population in the last census. While Mexicans or descendants of Mexicans dominate the Hispanic population of Georgia, no single nationality group predominates the Asian population. As noted previously, Koreans, Vietnamese, Indians and Filipinos, as well as Chinese and Japanese, are all represented in the state's population.

Blacks have continued to increase their numbers, from 1.1 million in 1970 to 1.7 million in 1990. However, those numbers represent a share of the population that has remained quite stable —around 27 percent — in large part because of the more rapid increase in the number of other minorities.

As a result of this growing level of immigration, the White majority share of the state's population has dropped slightly — from 73.4 percent in 1970, to 71.7 percent in 1980, and to 70.1 percent in 1990. Given that trend, the White share is sure to be below 70 percent today.

Regional Impact

Regions of the state are affected differently by immigration. Atlanta, being the state's principal city, has attracted a considerable number of immigrants. But in some other areas of the state, the change in composition also has been striking. This is particularly noticeable in those cities near military installations, and, therefore, likely reflects international marriage patterns. Muscogee, Chattahoochee and Hall counties, near Ft. Benning, Columbia, and Richmond counties near Ft. Gordon have among the highest shares of foreign born of all 159 Georgia counties (although the small population in some of these counties accentuates the foreign-born share). Indeed, Chattahoochee ranks first, while Muscogee ranks fourth. Similar patterns are found in Liberty, Long and Chatham counties bordering the Ft. Stewart military installation near Savannah. In this report, we will concentrate on the Atlanta municipality to demonstrate how immigration can contribute significantly to a city's change in just a few years.


Atlanta's population in 1990 was 394,017. It is the 36th largest city in the nation. Since 1970, however, Atlanta has seen its population decline while its suburbs have expanded spectacularly. In 1970, the city's population stood at 497,046. By 1980, it had fallen to 425,022. Over the same period, however, the population of the metropolitan area of Atlanta grew from 1.7 million to 2.1 million, and then to 2.8 million in 1990. Here we are limiting our analysis to the central city.

Over the 1970-1990 period, Atlanta's foreign-born population grew very rapidly, although proportionately it remains quite small. Only 5,852 foreign-born residents were enumerated in 1970. That increased by two-thirds — to 9, 777 — by 1980; and it increased again by more than a third — to 13,354 — by 1990. Well over half of these foreign-born residents in 1990 had arrived since 1980. In other words, more immigrants were added during the 1980s than the total number of Atlanta foreign-born residents enumerated in 1980 (see Figure 4).


Graph: Atlanta's Foreign-born Population, 1970 to 1990


As with the state, the source countries of immigrants to Atlanta have shifted considerably since 1970. Of the 5,852 foreign born enumerated in that year's census, 924 came from Cuba, then the leading country of origin. Many of the remainder were of European birth. Only 732 came from Asian countries.

By 1980, about 2,500 of the 9,777 — or over one-quarter — of the foreign born were of European birth, while the number from Asia had doubled the 1970 total. Vietnamese numbered 361 and Koreans 706, for example. Almost 2,000 were Latin American. The Mexican-born numbered 299.

The foreign-born population of Atlanta increased by about fifty percent during the 1980s. By 1990, Europeans numbered only 2,340 — less than in 1980. But the Asian-born Atlantans saw their numbers increase to 2,340 (Korea 641, Vietnam 413, China 538, India 201). Immigrants from Latin America totaled almost 5,000. The Mexican-born population reached 1,967. Immigration from Africa began to be noticeable in the 1980s. At the 1990 census, 1,692 Africans were counted, including 618 from Nigeria

This rising level of immigration, together with an exodus to the suburbs by native-born Whites and some Blacks has contributed to increasing diversity in the ethnic composition of Atlanta. In 1970, Whites comprised 47 percent of the population, Blacks 52 percent, and the remaining one percent was divided among Hispanics and Asians.

The White share fell to 32 percent in 1980. The Black share rose substantially to 66 percent. That of Hispanics reached 1.4 percent. By 1990, Blacks still comprised two-thirds of the city's population, but the White share was down to 30 percent and the difference was made up for by the increase in the shares of Hispanics and Asians — both up to almost 2 percent. By 1995, the White share is probably approaching one-quarter and the Black share may have stopped increasing as other minorities keep coming to the city. So the trend of a shrinking Atlanta population has been moderated by immigrant newcomers.

While relatively small, the numerical shifts during the 1980s are quite dramatic. The city's White population fell by 16,469 while that of Blacks fell by almost exactly the same number —16,346. On the other hand, the Hispanic population grew by almost 2,000, as did Asians.

By contrast, it might be noted that by 1990 the larger Atlanta metropolitan area was 69 percent White (a slightly smaller share than for the state as a whole), 26 percent Black, three percent Hispanic, and two percent Asian. Clearly the data reflect a major movement on the part of Whites and some Blacks to the suburbs at the same time that more immigrants are settling in the city.

Atlanta cannot now be compared to Houston or Los Angeles when looking at racial composition. Nevertheless; the stage has been set for further change.

"Operation SouthPAW"

The Atlanta INS office, which has jurisdiction for four states, has only 45 special agents in its Investigations Division. For the major month-long special “Operation SouthPAW (Protecting American Workers),” which began in June this year in Atlanta, and focused also on Birmingham and Chattanooga, the INS office relied on about 22 local agents and about twice that many agents detailed from Miami and New Orleans. The operation resulted in the apprehension and, in most cases, deportation of 2,078 illegal aliens, about 60 percent of whom were detained in Georgia. Ninety-four percent of those apprehended were Mexicans. The largest weekly total of apprehensions (701) came during the last week, when the operation focused only on traffic checks on Interstate 10 (running east-west from northern Florida along the Gulf of Mexico) and Interstate 20 (also east-west about 200 miles northward through Atlanta and Birmingham). The INS reasoned that the effects of the worksite inspections the previous three weeks would result in a large number of illegal aliens on the move. Most of these apprehensions occurred during the I-20 traffic checks.

Smyrna, Dalton, and Gainesville

On a smaller scale, less populous cities face perhaps a proportionately greater problem, especially with illegal immigration. The city of Smyrna, with a population of about 31,000, has been among the most outspoken in voicing public concern about immigrant settlement becoming an issue for the "Jonquil City." Smyrna, located between Atlanta and Marietta, has experienced a growing problem with illegal immigration. The city's Mayor, Max Bacon, in correspondence with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, asserts that his police department has compiled records documenting that 83 percent of illicit activities by immigrants in that jurisdiction are committed by illegal immigrants.

"The explosion of illegals in Smyrna has caused many in the city to fear that we are destined to become an East Coast version of San Diego," said A. Max Bacon, Mayor of Smyrna, 1995.

While only 72 illegal immigrants have been identified and deported as a result of 14 inspections by the INS between 1992 and earlier this year prior to Operation SouthPAW, Bacon argues that this simply demonstrates the inability of the INS district office in Atlanta to discharge its responsibility.

Data furnished by the Smyrna authorities show how the changing demographics impact a local jurisdiction. English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes — used almost entirely by immigrant children — require 6.3 percent of the school system's entire budget. Smyrna authorities cite the Hispanic population increase between 1980 and 1994 — from fewer than 170 to about 6,000 — as the major factor in these costs.

Similar concerns are voiced in other small northern Georgia towns, according to the Smyrna authorities. Dalton, with a population of about 21,000 residents may have several thousand illegal immigrants in and near the city. According to Atlanta INS District Director Thomas Fisher, the Dalton police force, like that in Smyrna, provided excellent cooperation during the Operation SouthPAW effort in June to identify and deport illegal alien workers. There were apprehensions in enterprises in both localities.

Gainesville, with a population of about 18,000 is a center for chicken processing, and there has been widespread employment of immigrant labor. The largest single apprehension of Operation SouthPAW — 115 illegal aliens — occurred at Gainesville's Fieldale Poultry Processing Co. According to the INS, this effort resulted in major absenteeism in other nearby companies, suggesting that they too had significant numbers of illegal alien workers. To what extent these workers constituted a major fiscal cost to the local government is not clear, given that very few of those apprehended claimed to have family members with them. Nevertheless, the INS points out that they were occupying jobs that might have been filled by unemployed local residents.


The recent rise in the immigrant population is not evenly spread throughout Georgia. There are also differences in the concentration of Hispanics as compared to Asians, for example. By looking at the populations of various selected counties in the past two census enumerations, including many of those with the highest portion of immigrant residents, it becomes clear how those counties are rapidly changing demographically and how the rise in foreign-born settlement is leading population growth (see Table 3).


Table: Population and Ethnic Change in Select Georgia Counties, 1980 to 1990


The Next 25 Years (1995-2020)

According to the most recent projections prepared by the Census Bureau (preferred series), Georgia's population will surpass 7.6 million by the turn of the century and will reach almost 9.5 million 20 years later. Between 1990 and 2020, Georgia is projected to be one of the fastest growing states in the nation. It should pass North Carolina and become the nation's tenth largest state by the end of this decade.

A more detailed examination of the Census Bureau projections suggests that probably they are erring on the low side. For example, net domestic migration to Georgia is assumed to fall from 244,000 per year in 1990-95 to 151,000 in 2015-2020, by which time the nation's population could be 326 million. This decline in migration is an arbitrary methodological assumption. It is equally possible that Georgia will continue to grow through net migration at its present rate. Indeed, an alternate Census Bureau projection (the "C Series") assumes just that — net migration varies from 209,000 to 254,000. In that case, by 2010, the state's projected population reaches 8.7 million rather than 8.5 million and by 2020, the difference is over 300,000 — 9,763,000 as compared to 9,426,000.

The Census Bureau projections also assume a constant level of immigration of just under 10,000 individuals annually. However, since 1990, legal immigration alone (i.e., not accounting for illegal immigrants) has been well above 10,000 per year in Georgia. Furthermore, case studies have shown that once an ethnic base of immigrants is established, that base tends to build on itself, as more people from the same country or region are attracted to join their friends and relatives.

Finally, it is well established that immigrant women tend to reflect the fertility rate of the society they come from rather than that of their adopted country .In many of the Latin American and Asian countries from which Georgia's current immigrants arrive, the fertility rate is higher than for the United States in general. For example, a Mexican woman has, on average, one more child than does the average American woman, and the average Indian woman has one and a half more children. These immigrants are thus likely to raise the overall fertility rate in the process. It seems quite possible that immigration to Georgia may grow to 15,000 or even 20,000 annually under current conditions.

If both our assumptions about migration — domestic and international — prove to be the case, we project that the 2020 population of Georgia may easily surpass 10 million, rather than the 9.4 million projected by the Census Bureau. If so, by 2020, the state will have gained three million inhabitants since 1995. Georgia will have grown by 40 percent in just 25 years. This rate is 1.4 percent per year, and it compares with 1.1 percent for the United States as a whole, with 0.1 percent for Europe as a whole, and with 0.3 percent for Japan.

The demographic dice may well be cast. Unless declines occur soon in migration (domestic and international) and fertility, Georgia is destined to continue to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future. The turn of the century will no doubt see over 7.6 million Georgians; twenty years later, between 9.5 and 10.5 million is a reasonable estimate of how many people will live in Georgia.

Georgia's ethnic composition will also change. While these shifts will be gradual, they will pose significant challenges for the state government, whether for education, the economy, or welfare. The White share of the population (68.7% in 1990) will fall gradually to 63.7% in 2020. Hispanics will grow by 57 percent — from 2.1 percent in 1990 to 3.3 percent by 2020. Asians will increase their share by 65 percent — from 1.7 to 2.8 percent. The Black share will also continue to grow, but by less than 10 percent, possibly aided in part by growing numbers of immigrants. From 27.5% in 1990, the Black proportion of the state’s population will reach 30.2% in 2020 (see Figure 5).

Putting it in numbers, while the White population of Georgia will increase about one-fifth (22%), from 4.9 million in 1990 to 6 million in 2020, the Hispanic population more than doubles, from 144,000 to over 300,000. Meanwhile, the Asian (and other) population will also more than double from just 122,000 to 267,000, and the Black population will climb by nearly one million — from 1.9 to 2.8 million (nearly 50%) by 2020. These future ethnic proportions are derived from the basic Census Bureau report. Should our own speculations be proven correct, the White share will be somewhat smaller.

By 2020, Georgia will be a much more multiracial society, although not yet at a point where no single group will predominate numerically. California has already reached such a no-majority status. Texas and New York will do so in the near future. This process of growing ethnic change may bring with it growing pains. Georgia may be able to draw on the experiences of these other states in planning how to adjust to a changing situation.

The Aging of the Population

Growth and increasing heterogeneity are not the only new challenges facing Georgia. The state is also getting older, and that too portends new problems. Over the 1990- 2020 period, the rate of growth of Georgia's elderly population (65 and over) will be the fifth most rapid in the nation.

While the population under age 15 will grow by 21 percent, from 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.9 million in 2020, the group aged 45-64 will grow by 86.5 percent- more than 1 million. Most important, the elderly population 65 and over will double over that thirty-year period (from 693,000 to 1,387,000). Looking just beyond 2020, and due to the baby boomers becoming seniors, Georgia can expect even more rapid growth among its elderly. With growth of senior citizens amounting to 72,000 in this decade alone, now is the time for the state to begin making plans for the needs of this rapidly growing segment of its population.

Some observers of this phenomenon have suggested that immigrants, because they generally are younger and of working age, offer a boon to the Social Security system. The problem with this view is that it ignores that these new immigrants will also qualify for Social Security, and to the extent that they are earning at the lower end of the economic scale, they will withdraw much more from the system than they contribute.

The growth of Georgia from 4.5 million to possibly 10 million within a fifty-year period is enormous. Equally important are the challenges posed by such growth, including how to accommodate the immigration-driven portion.


School enrollment is an example of this challenge. Between 1970 and 1990, public school enrollments rose by 62,000 — mostly among White and Black students. In 1970, there were 1,099,000 students enrolled in Georgia public schools — pre-Kindergarten through grade 12. By 1990, that number had reached 1,161,000.

Future changes, both in numbers and in ethnic composition, will be striking. By 2020, over 1.5 million children likely will be attending the elementary and secondary schools of Georgia, a gain of 149,000 students from today. If we assume that schools on the average have about 650 students, Georgia will have to build 230 schools over the next quarter of a century .That amounts to almost one new school each month for the next 25 years just to keep up with growing enrollments.

Ethnic changes, already noted for the total population, will be more pronounced among school-age children, as minorities tend to have larger families, and to start them earlier than Whites. By 2020, it is quite possible that Whites will lose their status as a majority of the public school students in Georgia, as Blacks, Hispanics and Asians increase their shares of the student population. With Hispanics, along with Blacks, tending to score lower on mathematical and reading skill tests, and with these populations growing rapidly because of immigration, this may have implications for the overall qualifications of the Georgia workforce of the future.

The increasingly multilingual school-age population poses additional financial problems for the state. Immigration is playing an important role in booming school enrollments, particularly in Atlanta. DeKalb County schools — which educate part of Atlanta's children and form the largest district in the state — had to hire more staff and set up a special center this year to handle over 1,800 new immigrant students speaking 29 languages, who now represent eight percent of the student body, according to a report in the July 3,1995 USA Today.

Throughout Georgia, the impact of immigration is being felt on school budgets. As mentioned earlier, this is in part because of the 1982 United States Supreme Court ruling that public schools must educate all children between the ages of 5 and 17 living within a school district, regardless of immigration status — in other words, illegal alien children too. In some areas, this further exacerbates an already difficult and expensive situation.

Expensive English language and bilingual educational programs will need to be expanded as the share of the student population that is non-English-speaking grows. It costs on average 50 percent more to educate a non-English speaking child than an English-speaking one. Cultural clashes, while not inevitable, are a possibility.

The cultural and policy implications of ethnic shifts must also be addressed. How will the state's educational system adapt to substantial shifts in enrollment? Will Hispanic and Asian children be immersed in English language training, as was the case with the immigrants of the late 19th century? Or will the languages of the motherland be maintained and encouraged? This is currently a much-debated issue in other areas with large immigrant populations. To a considerable extent, Georgia in the 21st century will depend on the training emphasized in the schools, and its participation in an increasingly technological age will have to rely on the education of its citizenry.

Infrastructure Costs

Schools are not the only institutions to be affected by population growth and high levels of migration. The problems facing the Georgia transportation infrastructure are immense and growing. Freeways, bridges, railroad tracks, and mass transit (where available) are deteriorating. In recent decades, traffic has grown much faster than highway capacity.

In 1990, almost 5.5 million motor vehicles were registered in Georgia. The ratio of automobiles and small trucks per 100 people was 84. There are almost as many cars and trucks registered in Georgia as there are people. This is well above the national average of 75 per 100 people.

In 1990, there were 110,482 miles of highways in the state. Clearly, at the current pattern of vehicle ownership, it will be virtually impossible for enough new highway miles to be constructed to keep pace with population growth. This is particularly true as suburbs are extended farther and farther away from the central cities to accommodate the burgeoning population. The prospect is sprawl, choked highways and massive traffic congestion. Yet, inadequate transportation infrastructure stifles economic growth by increasing the costs of moving people and goods from one place to another.

Assuming that the ratio of 84 vehicles per 100 inhabitants remains constant, by 2020 the number of registered vehicles will approach 8 million compared to 5.5 million in 1990. An additional 40,000 to 50,000 lane-miles of Georgia state highways (either more highways or more lanes) will need to be constructed just to keep pace with the state's population growth. Apart from the budget implications, what collateral impacts will it have on the quality of life and the environment if the state expands the highway system to accommodate an additional 2.5 million vehicles?

Consider the state's busy transit system, whether bus, plane, or train. Population growth tends to worsen each of these problems. It seems that all levels of government are struggling to catch up with the needs of growing numbers, and all too often fail to maintain the systems that were built in the past or to improve them for the future.

Another impact of immigration and population growth is on crime and prisons. The rate for serious crimes in Georgia (7,073 per 100,000 population) is 25 percent higher than that for the nation. Georgia ranks fourth among the states in the rate of serious crimes per 100,000 population. There is no evidence of any decline in that rate. Currently there are about 24,000 persons in Georgia prisons -in addition to about 4,000 federal prisoners in Atlanta and Jessup. The total rate of incarceration amounts to about 370 per 100,000 population. If that rate remains the same, some 9,000 additional prisoners will need to be housed by 2020. The cost of incarcerating them must be added to school, highway and other infrastructure construction outlays.

Fiscal Costs

Another matter to consider is the direct budgetary impact of immigration, legal as well as illegal. In addition to the infrastructure costs mentioned above, which apply equally to legal and illegal aliens, legal immigrants are entitled to the benefits of our national social safety net, although that is currently under review in Congress. (Illegal immigrants have access to a much more limited range of social services.) Some segments of the immigrant population tend to use those services more than the national average. Refugees, for example, who immediately become eligible for food stamps and other welfare programs upon arrival, are the most likely immigrants to be dependent on welfare. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Georgia received 18,823 refugees between 1983 and 1993, with most being from Southeast Asia. This number does not include asylum applicants, who are also eligible for welfare benefits, but do not receive them automatically as do refugees.

Because elderly immigrants may never work here in order to quality for Social Security benefits, they constitute a disproportionate segment of beneficiaries of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. According to the Social Security Administration, in 1994, aliens receiving SSI numbered 738,140, or 11.8 percent of all beneficiaries of the program.

In the past, it has often doubt that illegal immigration and refugee programs represent a net drain on the state's budget.


Georgia, in the next century, will be more populous than it is today — and it will be more heterogeneous. Unless new immigration — legal as well as illegal — is significantly reduced and fertility is lowered, Georgia's population is headed for over 10 million residents within 25 years.

Can Georgia adequately support 10 million inhabitants? Will Georgians willingly pay the taxes needed to permit the educational system to cope with rapid growth? Will the labor force of the future match the high-tech demands looming in the next century? What will the addition of millions of Georgians do to the state's environment? How will the state weather the onslaught on its transportation, water, electricity, and other infrastructures? How will the major metropolitan areas cope with even more people of diverse backgrounds? Will Georgians display the necessary tolerance to assure interracial peace, or will tensions rise and possibly lead to conflict? These are some of the questions that all Georgians need to face as a result of the state’s rapid growth in population and the shift in the composition of its population.

Although Congress sets immigration policy, the state may adopt policies that deter would-be illegal immigrants to Georgia. For example, it might create a fraud-proof state identification system, such as California's driver's license and identification card application, which requires proof of citizenship or legal residence. The state may use its powers to enforce wage, labor, work place safety and health laws to identify employers of illegal immigrants. It may prohibit the delivery of state taxpayer-funded employment services and general assistance to illegal residents. The most important contribution would result from consensus among Georgians that illegal immigrants are unwelcome. By denying illegal workers from abroad the jobs that they are seeking, the attraction of illegal entry would be significantly diminished, and the work of the INS would be easier.

The Georgia delegation to Congress can be enlisted to assist this process by supporting legislative efforts to strengthen controls against illegal immigration and reducing levels of legal immigration. Even in the delicate area of fertility, Georgia has options. Public and private agencies alike may work to raise awareness about the issue of rapid population growth. Progress in changing family size patterns may benefit from educational efforts and public support.

Although the dynamics of population change react slowly — like putting the brakes on an ocean liner — a change in course is possible, and the earlier the change is begun, the less correction to the course will be required.


U.S. Bureau of the Census, "Population Projection of the United States...", P-25-1092 {1992), and P-25-1104 { 1993 ), by Jennifer Cheesman Day, GPO, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population Division, The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 1990, Pub. CPH-L-98, and CP-3-1 -July 1993, both by Susan Lapham, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1993 Statistical Yearbook {and previous), NTIS order No. PB 94-205564, Washington, D.C., September 1994.

Dr. Leon Bouvier is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and director of the Center's Program on Immigration and Population Change in America. He is also adjunct professor of demography at the Tulane University School of Public Health. He was Vice President of the Population Reference Bureau in Washington and served as a demographer to the U.S. Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy in 1980.

John Martin is the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. He is a former career Foreign Service Officer who specialized in policy formulation and political analysis.