a tale of two chinatowns

Bonnie Tsui, author of American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, has an essay in The Atlantic on the rise economic might of China, slowing Chinese immigration to the United States, and what she believes this all means for the de-population and inevitable end of America's Chinatowns: The End of Chinatown.

Interesting theory. Jeff Yang, however, takes major issue with the essay, calling her reporting questionable, her logic problematic, and her facts downright inaccurate or misinterpreted -- and he's got the figures to disprove it: The Reports of Chinatown's Demise Are Highly Exaggerated: A Response to Bonnie Tsui's "Atlantic" article, "The End of Chinatown".
You see, Tsui cites as her primary statistical evidence a five-year decline in immigration from China to the U.S. of about 20%. However, a look at the year-by-year statistics -- readily available as part of the Department of Homeland Security's free 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics -- throws her conclusion into sharp question. Because while immigration did indeed drop betwen 2006 to 2010, the drop has been far from steady -- it fell from 87,307 in 2006 to 76,655 in 2007, but then rose to 80,271 in 2008, fell to 64,238 in 2009, and spiked back up in 2010 to 70,863. With that added detail, the five year "decline" looks like it could be normal variation.

But that's not to say there isn't a variable is driving the ebb and flow of Chinese immigration. That variable? Real U.S. GDP growth. Tsui makes the case that the rise of China is leading to a stemming of the tide of Chinese immigration, but as the chart here shows, the data doesn't reflect the inverse correlation between China's GDP and Chinese immigration that Tsui is claiming. It does show a direct relationship between U.S. GDP and Chinese immigration. Which strongly suggests that when -- if -- the economy snaps back into a sustained period of growth, Chinese immigration is likely to return to its historical levels.

The bottom line is that even with China's economy booming, Chinese seem to have plenty of motivation to come to the U.S. -- so long as there's something to come here for. As the U.S. tumbled into recession, there was a sharp falloff in immigration; now that the U.S. has begun to return to growth, that falloff has already started to self-correct. Tsui's claim that the "immigrant flows" are slowing just don't hold water.
Read the rest of Jeff's thoughtful and fact-filled takedown here.

angry archive