Rust Belt, Deep South Have Most Homegrown Residents

New census data shows areas of the country with highest concentrations of native residents. View detailed data for your community.
by | November 18, 2011

Jackson, Miss., faces high poverty rates and challenges in attracting out-of-staters to the city in the heart of the Deep South. At the same time, the state capitol draws in many Mississippians with its numerous assets.

An estimated 83 percent of Jackson residents were born in Mississippi, the second highest homegrown percentage in the U.S.

New census data illuminates many similar areas with significant concentrations of homegrown residents living in their state of birth. A Governing data analysis found areas of the Rust Belt and Deep South represent the highest such populations.

Nationwide, slightly less than half the population age 25 and up reside in their state of birth. These percentages vary widely across different parts of the country.

Families with strong community ties boost homegrown populations. But such areas also often struggle to lure those from other states.

In Jackson, Mayor Harvey Johnson said his city wrestles with Mississippi’s segregated past and the associated negative connotations of the South.

“We’re taking advantage of every opportunity to bring in people from outside of the state,” he said. “We’re trying to build ourselves as a destination city.”

About 79 percent of the city's residents age 25 and older were born in Mississippi.

Johnson also suspects the city’s high poverty rate contributes to the number of native residents. Those living in poverty typically don’t possess resources to move.

Similarly, many economically-depressed communities along the Rust Belt cope with high poverty and few employment opportunities to lure outsiders. Rust Belt cities with high homegrown populations include Akron, Ohio; Toledo, Ohio; and Erie, Pa.

William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, said the availability of jobs and racial makeup of an area are key factors shaping homegrown populations. Areas with mostly native residents commonly experience outward migration. Frey said older, whiter populations also typically characterize such regions.

Homegrown populations are commonly found in established and well-settled states, Frey said. Other parts of the U.S, like the Mountain West, are still filling in.

“You have a very rooted population in some of the Midwestern and middle of the country states,” Frey said.

The highest percentage of homegrown residents age 25 and older reside in Louisiana (75 percent), Michigan (72 percent) and Pennsylvania (71 percent).

Homegrown residents are most scarce in Nevada, one of the fastest growing states in the country. Less than a quarter of Nevada’s total population and only 9 percent of those age 25 and up were born in the state.

Census data for U.S. cities and census-designated places shows Spring Valley, Nev., an unincorporated town outside of Las Vegas formed in the mid-1970s., is home to the lowest percentage (4.5 percent) of 25-and-older residents born in the same state.

An analysis of 2010 American Community Survey data showed the following areas have the highest homegrown populations for ages 25 and up:

  • Cheektowaga, N.Y. (85.8%)
  • Jackson, Miss. (79.0%)
  • Macon, Ga. (76.9%)
  • Birmingham, Ala. (76.9%)
  • Erie, Pa. (75.8%)
  • Lafayette, La. (75.8%)
  • Lake Charles, La (75.0%)
  • Canton, Ohio (74.9%)
  • Livonia, Mich. (74.4%)
  • Oshkosh, Wis. (74.0%)

Percentages of homegrown residents reflect years of population shifts. Any recent upswings in migration are unlikely to significantly alter total concentrations of homegrown residents.

Although many cities on the list experienced recent population declines, the areas offer unique traits enabling them to retain longtime residents. But to diversify their populations, cities must look for innovative ways to lure those from other areas of the country.

In Jackson, state and local leaders have made progress in altering how outsiders and potential employers perceive the region, Johnson said. Nissan expanded its facility in nearby Canton, Miss. A new Toyota plant is expected to employ up to 2,000 workers in the northern part of the state.

Tourism also factors into the city’s plans to expand its reach. The city hosts the USA International Ballet Competition every four years. “Cultural tourism is a very important way to tell our story and get people to see the changes in our city and in our state up close,” Johnson said.

For areas of the South, cultural influences also weigh on a person’s decision where to live.

Edward Shihadeh, an associate professor of sociology at Louisiana State University, said young southerners often face pressure to live near families and not abandon their hometowns.

“It’s a very tightly-knit, kinship oriented society,” he said. “Kansas and Canada are far more similar than Kansas and Louisiana."

In some cases, this cultural pressure limits a recent graduate’s career options and development.

Compared to other regions, those living in the Deep South also tend to place a greater emphasis on family while relying less on government, Shihadeh said.

Governing areas with entrenched populations represents a stark contrast to more diverse areas. “Interests groups, biases and preferences are much more well-known and harder to overcome,” Frey said.

In Jackson, for instance, Johnson cited lower public transportation ridership compared to other cities. The city, he said, must change the culture among those clinging to their cars if public transportation is to be embraced.

Frey said political newcomers may find it particularly difficult to sway public opinion from long-held beliefs.

“Politicians in these states pretty much know who they’re dealing with,” he said.

Select your state and city below to view detailed 2010 American Community Survey estimates for homegrown populations:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


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