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Immigration has transformed Greater Boston over the last three decades

Birchat Kedir of Ethiopia, Olivia Meyerhoffer of France, and Mariama Cire Sylla of Guinea (from left) at an immigration rally on the Boston Common during the 21st annual Immigrants' Day at the Massachusetts State House on April 5, 2017. Craig F. Walker/Staff Photo

Cities and towns outside of Boston have undergone a seismic demographic shift since 1990, adding thousands of foreign-born residents and transforming the region, research released on Wednesday shows.

Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants have changed the face of Quincy. Guatemalans have made Waltham their home. And in Brockton, foreign-born black residents from Haiti, Cape Verde, and other countries in Africa have settled in a city that was once predominantly white.

“People still have this perception of Boston as being a very white city and Greater Boston as being white. That perception lags far behind the reality,’’ said Luc Schuster, one of the report’s coauthors and director of Boston Indicators, the research arm at the Boston Foundation.


Boston itself has long been a majority-minority city, meaning that most of its residents are racial or ethnic minorities. But Boston, too, is changing, with a handful of neighborhoods — such as the South End, Mission Hill, and Jamaica Plain — becoming more white in the past 27 years, the report found.

Meanwhile, the city’s suburbs and outlying enclaves have become even more diverse, with the nonwhite population outside Boston having increased more than 250 percent over three decades.

The 76-page report, titled “Changing Faces of Greater Boston,’’ analyzes census data between 1990 and 2017 and includes a series of case studies on various ethnic and racial communities.


The report also sheds light on the central role that immigrants and people of color play in the region’s strong economy and offers insight on how policy makers can better address persistent opportunity gaps that leave large segments of the population behind.

Researchers from Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation, University of Massachusetts Boston, and The UMass Donahue Institute, the university’s public service and economic development arm, led the study.

While foreign-born residents and their families are experiencing a population boom, the number of whites has sharply declined by nearly 350,000 in Greater Boston since 1990, the researchers said. The researchers define “Greater Boston” as the five Boston-area counties: Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Plymouth.


Researchers reported that more white people are moving away from the region than coming in, and that white deaths now outnumber white births. This is part of a national trend, the report noted.

Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at The UMass Donahue Institute, said the fractured national discussions on immigration have largely ignored the significant contributions of foreign-born residents in local communities.

“I don’t think it’s a story that is being told very well,’’ he said, noting Boston’s booming economy. “The rhetoric around immigration does not often focus on the economic benefits.”

Citing the study, he said 91 percent of Greater Boston’s new population growth comes from international immigration to the region. More than a quarter of the city (28 percent) is foreign-born, as is 19 percent of the full Boston region, the report said.

Melnik also said that foreign-born workers comprise nearly 80 percent of the increase in the labor force in Massachusetts since 1990.

While the report noted lower levels of income inequality in municipalities with higher foreign-born populations, it said immigrant residents lag in representation in government or executive board rooms.

Paul Watanabe, one of the authors and director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston, said the research offers lessons for city planners and policy makers.


“Without immigrants and people of color, the Massachusetts population would be declining, not growing. I think that notion is missed by a lot of people,” Watanabe said.

The report found that the nonwhite population outside of Boston increased by 254 percent, compared with a 63 percent rise in the city since 1990, the report said.

“In recent years, these residential shifts have led to some suburbs to become as diverse as Boston itself,’’ the report said.


It notes “a striking cluster of cities” north of Boston — including Malden, Everett, Revere, Lynn, and Chelsea — that have rapidly diversified. Those communities were majority white a couple of decades ago, but no longer. Not only has the number of new immigrants in the area increased sharply but the immigrants are coming from a broader section of the world, including China, the Dominican Republic, India. and Brazil.

The research shows that between 2000 and 2016 the Asian-American population growth has been fastest in the region’s smaller, suburban municipalities.

In Quincy, the change has been profound. For decades, the report said, the city struggled to revitalize its once vibrant downtown amid the rise of suburban malls nearby.

“But as city planners consistently looked to a future of modern buildings and redesigned roadways, Asian-Americans seized the moment, the report said.

Without waiting on those long-planned improvements, they moved in, bought homes, and opened businesses, “transforming Quincy in ways unimagined by local policy makers,’’ the researchers said.

The Asian-American population was 6 percent of Quincy’s population in 1990; today it is 28 percent, the researchers said.


The Latino community in Massachusetts has also surged. Four decades ago, Latinos in the state came mostly from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. But between the mid-1980s and 1990s, the researchers said, large numbers of immigrants and refugees fleeing violence and strife in Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala moved in.

In Waltham, long a destination for international migrants, Guatemalans have become the largest group of foreign-born residents, and represent 30 percent of that city’s Latino population, the researchers said.

By being close to some of the wealthiest towns in the area, the Guatemalans have found job opportunities in landscaping, construction, snowplowing, and domestic work. But while Latinos like the Guatemalans are doing better in those areas, the report suggests that Guatemalans in Waltham face barriers accessing crucial services in the city.

It pointed to a need for more Spanish-speaking services in the city to better help immigrant families, including those who still live in fear of deportation. High rents and housing costs also leave many vulnerable to landlords who take advantage of the new immigrants, the researchers said.

The report also tackled demographic changes in the region’s black community.

Greater Boston’s black population expanded by about 125,000 people to 340,318 from 1990 to 2016, the report said. But of the new black residents in the area, only 13,150 live in Boston proper.

More often than not, they live in areas that are segregated, underresourced, and otherwise marginalized. Many are renters, making them targets of gentrification and displacement, the report said.


But it’s different in Brockton, where the black population, including a large share of people from Africa, Cape Verde, and Haiti, more than tripled. Brockton is now 27 percent foreign born, and 41 percent of its black residents are foreign born. Rising housing costs in Boston have caused many blacks to turn to Brockton.

One in five home loans made to blacks in Massachusetts went to homebuyers in Brockton. This is almost twice the number of loans that went to blacks in Boston, the researchers said.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.