Danbury to continue trend of rapid population growth, with increasing share of Latinos
DANBURY — The city’s rapid growth is expected to continue for the next two-plus decades, but the Danbury of 2040 likely will look much different from that of today.
The Connecticut State Data Center estimates that the Hat City, which now has about 85,000 residents, will have nearly 95,000 residents by that date. But the most noticeable difference might be the city’s ethnic makeup, because recent census data suggests that the Latino share of the population is likely to grow faster than that of any other ethnic group.
One factor in that trend, and perhaps the most familiar one, is immigration. A process of “chain migration,” in which immigrants from one country follow their compatriots to specific locations in another country, is already well-established in the region.
The other, less obvious, factor, is that the birth rate among the city’s Latino women is much higher than that of non-Hispanic white women. Concurrently, the median age of the Latino population is falling, while that of non-Hispanic whites is increasing.
Michael Howser, a researcher for the Data Center, said these two factors helped underpin its prediction that Danbury will have an estimated 94,602 residents in 2040.
Furthermore, experts say, these two factors, which are also at work in the nation as a whole, will contribute to long-term economic growth, as young Latinos and other ethnic minorities replace aging Baby Boomers in the work force.
Carina Bandhauer, a sociology professor at Western Connecticut State University, said this process is not just local, but national and even international.
“So many western countries are dependent on immigration to stock their workforces,” she said. “Danbury is no different.”
But in the short term, these trends are bound to create political dislocation, such as the backlash against immigration and the recent rise of populist nationalism in the U.S. and Europe.
William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer and the author of “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America, ” said these dislocations will eventually fade away.
“Politicians can either be progressive, or try to get votes against the shift, but this demographic shift is long in the making,” Frey said. “A short-sighted strategy, that we’re going back to the 1950s, may get you an election or two, but it’s not sustainable.”
The trend toward a growing Latino population has long been evident state- and nationwide, but is especially notable in Danbury.
From 2009 to 2015, census figures show, the number of Latino city residents grew by nearly 47 percent, compared to 30 percent in the state and 20 percent in the U.S. as whole.
A major factor in that change is a vast difference in birth rates. On average over the last 10 years, according to the U.S. Census, there were 58 live births for every 1,000 Latino women, compared to 41 per 1,000 non-Hispanic white women.
The gap was particularly stark in 2016, when there were 76 children born for every 1,000 Latino women, versus 21 for non-Hispanic whites. Foreign-born women accounted for 84 births per 1,000, compared to 38 for U.S.-born women.
Emanuela Palmares, editor of Tribuna, the city’s trilingual newspaper, said the high Latino birth rate can be attributed partly to the youth of recent immigrants, many of child-bearing age, and partly to the cultural importance of family in the community.
She noted as well that young parents often leave their economically depressed or violent home countries to give themselves and the next generation a better chance at achieving prosperity.
But that higher birth rate won’t continue indefinitely, said WCSU’s Bandhauer. Studies show that recent immigrants have more children than native populations, but that birth rates tend to fall as one generation gives way to another.
The chain effect
Meanwhile, continued “chain migration” compounds the effect of natural population growth.
“Danbury is host to the population that is growing the most,” Bandhauer said. “Chain migration amplifies that change, and we’ve seen that in every immigration trend in U.S. history.”
Palmares said an immigrant’s decision to move to Danbury is “more sophisticated than people give it credit for.”
Residents of foreign countries are as aware as local real estate agents that Danbury has low crime and unemployment rates, and that it already is home to a large immigration population, Palmares said. And once they’re here, they find a network of businesses and civic organizations to help them make Danbury home.
“You can plug yourself into Danbury, even if you don’t know anybody,” she said.
Census data shows the chain effect in motion. The number of residents with roots in each of nearly 20 Latin American countries has increased every year between 2009 and 2015. The Ecuadorian population, the largest single Latino group in Danbury, grew from 5,929 to 7,444 over those six years.
Bandhauer said these demographic shifts are often alarming to native-born residents, and something similar to the ”white flight” of earlier generations has helped make Connecticut a highly segregated state, with affluent white suburbs surrounding economically struggling cities with large minority populations.
But in the long term, that demographic diversity will keep Danbury’s economy strong, she said.
The schools, Frey said, are where the shift is commonly seen first.
From the fall of 2010 to the fall of 2015 the district gained 814 students, growing by nearly 10 percent, according to the school district’s annual Department of Education District Profile and Performance Report.
But that overall figure obscures a more startling trend: During that period, the district gained 1,389 Hispanic or Latino students and lost 581 white students. Forty-six percent of the school system’s students are Hispanic or Latino, the 2015 report shows.
Palmares said present challenges — such as the growth’s pressure on the city school system, many of them needing help with English — will pay off when Danbury is home to a diverse, well-educated populace.
There are already signs that the city is welcoming the shift, she added.
She has seen the newspaper her mother started 18 years ago — with each story in English, Portuguese and Spanish — read by both day laborers and bank executives.
“This is our new reality,” she said. “We can fight against the ocean’s waves, or we can build a big boat together.”
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