Population Diversity in America from 19th Century to 21st Century

Today the United States is one of the largest countries in the world inhabited by people of almost all nationalities. They could maintain their own cultures, food, habits and traditions and assimilate into the local ones. However, it has been a long way to its establishment because the geography, population and ethnic conscience of people has changed dramatically since the 19th century. After the American Civil War, at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States became one of the safest countries in the world.

Not only social and economic conditions but also the threat of physical damage was the reason of mass migration. Later, America became the main destination for people willing to work or to study. In this context, the article analyzes modifications in the localization and intensity of migration, emphasizing the key points in the history and statistics. The author explains the major reasons for these tendencies and provides a brief social analysis of how they affected the country.

Population Diversity in America

The global conjecture of the 19th – 21st centuries as well as the growing development of the USA encouraged millions of people to leave Europe, Asia, Southern America and some parts of the North and migrate to America. The national and ethnic content of America was changing rapidly during the pre-war, Civil War and post-war periods. Unlike Europeans, who mostly came to the USA at their own will, escaping from the catastrophes and disasters in their motherland, Africans were one of the minor groups forced to migration. The development of slavery and later interstate struggle on this ground encouraged many African Americans move to the free North.

Comparing to other world countries, the United States occupies the leading place in the number of immigrants coming from different countries and assimilating into local cultures and traditions as well as bringing their own. Mostly, immigrants settle down in urban and suburban areas with a high industrialization rate, where they could find a job as a cheap human labor. Simultaneously, one of the largest ethnic groups, Spanish-speaking immigrants mostly settles down in big cities and areas close to the Mexican border. The paper analyzes the dynamics of immigrants settling in America and shows that the income of migrants has transferred from big urban areas to smaller communities, frequently being in unequal survival conditions. Well-educated and English-speaking immigrants had a privilege to live in urban and suburban areas to be easily accepted by the natives while others had to migrate inside the country in search of season work.

From the Preconditions till the 19th Century

The history of American migration goes further than the 19th century since de-facto it began with the discovery of West India by Columbus. Native Americans were oppressed by newcomers and settled on barren lands, which were later named reservations, while Europeans explored in new territories. However, Amerindians had different working and living conditions. For example, “the Mounted Indians had a way of life totally dependent on contributions taken from the whites: the horse and the gun”. They settled new markets and promoted their culture, which included English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Jewish and African American. The latter, unlike the rest, came to America not at their good will but as African slaves serving Americans for more than two centuries till the first struggles for racial equality.

After some generations, the Europeans stopped identifying themselves as Germans, English or Spanish but considered themselves as Americans. The issue of indigenous population is still opened for discussions since even though aborigines mixed with other ethnic groups beyond reservations,  they try to preserve their traditions. Thus, the majority of Native Americans prefer to stay apart from others and save their authentic culture, especially in such states as Idaho, Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, Massachusetts, and Michigan, and thus saved this variety. It is not strange since Indians showed Europeans how to cultivate tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes and corn. They invented moccasins and snowshoes, which were unknown to Europeans before.

By the 19th century, the English became the dominant group inhabiting the United States; therefore, English was named as the official language. However, it would be incorrect to name England the mother of America since all European countries participated in establishment of the state. To understand this, it is enough to consider the historical background of the Western and Eastern Europe in the 19th century that caused the first large wave of migration. In 1848 – 1849, the German Confederation’s Revolution failed, after which a large number of refugees migrated to the free lands of the United States. At this time, according to Jackson Spielvogel, “the German states were initially weak as central Europe tended to remain under the domination of aristocratic landowning classes and autocratic, centralized monarchies”. Simultaneously, for the American government it was a useful human resource to fight in the Civil War. For example, Germans were encouraged to apply to service in the American army and offered a land grant in turn. This proposal encouraged many desperate migrants, most of whom did not know the language and had no means for survival. Thus, almost a quarter of German immigrants agreed to become soldiers.

Jews is another large group relating to the first big wave of migration in the 19th century. The largest wave of migrants came during fierce pogroms in Eastern Europe, involving xenophobic campaigns against the Jewish people. They brought Judaism which had to find its place in the country where dominated Catholics and Protestants. The Jewish people established entire communities where they could maintain their traditions and built synagogues sponsored mostly by donations of the Jews from all around the world.

Additional issue encouraging Europeans to come to America was hunger caused by poor harvests and population growth. For example, Ireland suffered from harsh blight attacks on potato crops, which caused starvation. European ships travelled regularly to the United States due to the actively developing trade. Thus, many people used these ships to illegally cross the ocean and get to the lands rich in food. They were travelling their families or even whole small villages, and comparing to others, their adaptation was quite fast. Thus, the 19th century became an era of massive immigration into the United States. Washington had to operate a port in New YorkHarbor specifically to the needs of immigrant ships. The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island is a French present to the land of freedom, as it was identified by immigrants.

Unwilling Migrants

Apart from immigrants who arrived to America at the good will, trying to escape from challenges and catastrophes in their home countries, there is a group of people who were taken to the USA by power. African colonization led to the development of slavery, which continued till the end of the Civil War. Slavery developing in agrarian states did not satisfy the increasing number of African Americans, who settled in America with entire families. Moreover, by law, their descendents also were slaves since childhood.

The Compromise of 1850 became one of the historical pacts that affected migration of African Americans to free-of-slavery states. California was one of the beneficial states that became a part of the USA soon after the American-Mexican War. Therefore, the state issueddemands, one of which was prohibition of slavery within its borders. Thus, “in 1849 California requested permission to enter the Union as a free state, potentially upsetting the balance between the free and slave states in the U.S. Senate”. However, this privilege disturbed the participants of the negotiations, who had agreed that the American South will save its status slave countries while North will abolish it. The most interesting fact is that it led to massive escape of African American slaves to free northern states. However, local citizens, who were supposed to stop escaping slaves, helped them and even protected with their guns. As a result, it led to a mix of several cultures; immigrants finally received jobs and were granted  freedom. Consequently, this period can be included in the list of the  most outstanding internal migrations in the United States in the 19th century.

The Contrasts of the 20th Century

The growth of industrialization in the United States and a massive influx of human resources, made Native Americans worry that even more immigrants  would come to the country, thus leading to overcrowding, increased crime rates and requiring governmental financial support. The state had no clear regulation policies for these processes. Moreover, people mostly moved to the states and cities with the  growing economy, such as New York, Florida, Illinois, etc. Thus, in 1924, the Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act and “put the total number of visas available each year to new immigrants at 350,000”. For the first time, the American government established quotas per each country whose citizens migrated to the United States. The allowed annual quote amount was flexible and depended on the number of country immigrants who were already living in the USA.

The strictest policy was towards Asian migrants, who were coming mostly from China, Japan and Korea and settling in urban and suburban areas. The reason was in their natural ability to adapt quickly to new surrounding: usually Asian immigrants were highly-skilled and thus could obtain better positions. That is why, Asian migrants had closer relations with the natives rather than other newcomers. According to Gabaccia, “Rightly or wrongly, Americans have desired protection from the threats they perceive as coming from abroad.” Even today, the Asian population in the United States is one of the highest among other ethnic groups. Until 1924, the American legal system avoided Asians in the list of allowed immigrants, and only a few decades later, the Senate decided to give people of all nationalities an opportunity to become US citizens. However, according to Eric Arnesen, “the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act of 1952 might have opened the door for limited Asian immigrants, but it kept the Johnson-Reed system of national origins for Europeans”. Observing the migration tendency and the success stories, it is necessary to admit that Asians are the largest and the most successful migrant group in terms of carreer.

The world wars also affected the process of migration to America. Even though the American economy was not strong, people escaped from the Nazi and Soviet intervention as well as the developing communism. In general, these immigrants could be divided into two big groups. The first comprises workers were not educated, so they were working as builders, miners and workers, providing various services and had difficulties in adapting to the local conditions. They often had season work, thus, were forced to move from place to place. The second group involved political migrants, intelligence and well-educated immigrants, who mostly worked in universities, hospitals and schools. In America, they were able to come to any place but mostly selected large territories, where first diaspora was established.

The wave of Jewish migration, especially from the Nazi occupied areas and Eastern Europe, was one of the largest. The Holocaust, genocides, numerous ethnic partisan struggles encouraged people to move to the peaceful American continent. Indeed, America was not as damaged as Europe; it was more advanced in terms of technological progress; American companies such as Coca Cola and Maybelline developed profitable business and became the first global brands. In addition, Mexicans continued to migrate to the South to work on mines, harvesting and wood producing companies. The Pacific Lumber Company created an entire micro community that was supporting healthcare, accommodation and education of migrant workers and their children. In contrast, after the Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese became the largest American enemy, the government started forced migration of the Japanese to cold northern states and settled them in special reservations. Basically, they became small communities, and the Japanese did not have any connection with the world beyond.

In addition, racial prejudice towards African Americans continued even the legal abolition of slavery. Due to the development of racist organizations, such as Ku Klux Klan, racial discrimination affected employment, the quality of medical care and even social life. One of the brightest examples is the Birmingham campaign, when Martin Luther King made a peaceful campaign encouraging African Americans and whites to unite their efforts for struggle for equality. Due to the success of freedom marches, many ex-slaves gained the freedom of movement  and could more throughout the country, mostly to urban areas in a search for a job. In terms of geography, Eric Foner said: “Many moved to southern towns and cities, where, it seemed, freedom was free-er”. The European post-war restoration in some ways weakened the stream of migrants since the new centers of migration became Spain, Germany, France and the UK.

The 21st Century Migration

Migration at the end of the 20th – at the beginning of 21st century is marked by big immigrant streams not only from Europe but also from Latin America. The Mexican diaspora and migration population is one of the highest in the USA; however, it concerns not only long-term migration but also work migration and trespassing the border states and Mexico. In some suburban areas of the pre-border states, Spanish-speaking inhabitants prevail over the English-speaking. In addition, according to the Department of Homeland Security, “There were 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in January 2010. Roughly 80% of the illegal immigrants are from the North American region including Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America”. In the 21st century, the immigrant flow is higher due to the following reason: a) education; b) globalization; c) career development; d) family; e) childbirth; f) green cards. In terms of spatial relations, well-educated and professionally skilled migrants prefer big cities, where they can try their efforts in big companies or governmental services. By contrast, cheap labor workers lacking knowledge of the language mostly went to suburban areas or settled in territories inhabited with their national groups.

All in all, it is appropriate to analyze the general picture of migration since the policy of the past affected present tendencies. According to Jill Wilson and Nicole Svajlenka, “In 2000, the 10 metro areas with the largest number of immigrants accounted for 56 percent of all the foreign born living in the U.S.” For decades, the most popular cities for immigration were Los Angeles and Chicago due to their friendly patterns towards immigrants. Currently, the stream of immigrants to these cities increased comparing to other urban and suburban zones. Atlanta and Washington, D.C. have a growing proportion of foreign population in comparison to natives. The government and the Census Bureau defined individual metro areas comfortable for stay of foreigners and their adaptation. Agreeing that “Taken together, the fastest growing second-tier metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, and Washington, DC, along with 11 other metropolitan areas, house one-fifth of all immigrants in the United States today”. There is a big stream of Spanish-speaking migrants to Texas. The post-recession Houston and the developing Miami have an increasing suburban population of immigrants. Currently, these areas along with Washington, D.C. form top three of the most immigrant attractive places.

Beginning from the 21st century, a lot of small cities became centers of migration due to the growth of high-tech industrialization. The population of small cities creates an impression that even minor intervention of migrants seems large and can easily suppress the number of native inhabitants. However, migration is a good alternative for ageing local population. The population of midsized metropolitans also grows, especially on the West. Nevertheless, there are still difficulties with making insurances by private companies and establishment of fair revenue. Speaking about Southeast areas, they were popular before the recession since it was an American center for construction jobs and the housing boom. However, these jobs are always cyclical and consequently, affect further inner migration of workers. The benefit to building companies is that immigrant labor is cheaper, and they are not always highly-demanding in their living conditions. By contrast, many Asians look for higher positions and offer better working quality, discipline and flexibility in adaptation.


The economical, political and social condition that appeared in Europe since the 19th century encouraged millions of people to escape from England, Germany, Holland, Spain and Portugal. Additionally, due to the development of slavery many African Americans were forced to move to the United States, after which they started the first attempts to struggle for equal rights, including the freedom of migration. In some time, the centers of business and industrial development moved from large megalopolises to middle and smaller cities, the stream of migrants became more pulverized. The population diversity has changed: in ageing small areas due to the migration income, the quote of youth raised.

Even though, the 10 metro areas with the largest number of immigrants host over more than a half of all American immigrants: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Washington, Dallas, Riverside, and Boston. Atlanta and Washington are among the most attractive areas to the new comers. Historically, many Asians were more oppressed by allowed migration quotes due to their rapidly increasing population and with the opposition of local activists, who were afraid of Asian competition. Comparing to natives, the migrants have worse working conditions and lower wages, which reflects on their preferences in location of work. Cheap labor power is mostly looking for opportunities in changing poorer areas with enquiries of building, agriculture, industry, and servicing.

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