Philly and Newark, N.J., rank among best places for immigrants to live

Listen 1:05
A naturalization ceremony takes place at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY, file)

A naturalization ceremony takes place at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY, file)

How easy is it for immigrants to get a job, rent an apartment, or start a business? In a new list ranking U.S. cities by the New American Economy, a bipartisan group of mayors and business owners, Philadelphia ranks sixth.

Newark, New Jersey, came in first.

“There has been this small but growing movement of cities that have really taken the lead as Washington has stalled,” said New American Economy managing director Hanna Siegel. When it comes to what those cities are doing — hiring bilingual staff, doing outreach in immigrant communities, and encouraging participation in the economy and civic life — “there hasn’t been a way to measure this and see what’s working and what isn’t,” she said.

Researchers with New American Economy used 2016 American Community Survey data to compare cities with more than 200,000 people and where at least 3.3 percent of the residents were born in another country.

The group found some of the two most welcoming cities — Newark and Baltimore — were not traditional immigrant hubs, like New York City, but cities rebounding after years of economic decline. In Philadelphia, Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative attributed much of the city’s recent population growth to immigration.

New American Economy — launched by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a cohort of business leaders — specifically ranked cities based on two measures: local government policies and socioeconomic integration.

Factors such as whether cities have an office devoted to immigrant affairs and whether its police affirmatively enforce immigration laws contributed to each city’s policy score. To get at socioeconomic integration, the group looked at how immigrants fare economically — in terms of labor force participation, poverty rate and median income — when compared with their U.S.-born counterparts. Philadelphia ranked in the top 10 on the policy list, but not in terms of socioeconomic integration.

Miriam Enriquez, with Philadelphia’s office of immigrant affairs, attributed the city’s overall high standing to partnerships between local government, nonprofits and community organizations.

“The Office of Immigrant Affairs is small but mighty. We do a lot of work, but we wouldn’t be able to do that work if it wasn’t for collaborating,” she said. Mayor Jim Kenney’s policy of limiting cooperation with federal immigration enforcement also contributed to the high score — while it has drawn criticism from the Trump administration.

To help raise the economic integration score, Enriquez said, the city must continue working on economic development for immigrants. The New American Economy report found that cities that ranked well for attracting immigrant entrepreneurs also had slightly higher rates than the overall group when it came to entrepreneurship among U.S.-born residents.

New American Economy considered the entire spectrum of the immigrant experience — from naturalized U.S. citizens to green-card holders to unauthorized immigrants — in its calculations.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal