tags: , , , , , Blog

Must-Read From Ron Brownstein: “How Iowa’s Population Mix Might Scramble Its High-Stakes Caucuses”

Share This:

In a new piece, the National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein highlights how Iowa’s rapidly-changing demographics are setting the stage for a complex conversation on immigration as the state readies for its first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Just last week, the Des Moines Register’s Kyle Munson moderated a forum on immigration, #UniteIowa, featuring leaders from Iowa’s immigrant, business, educational, faith, labor and political communities, as well as Democratic candidates Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee (all Presidential candidates and members of the Iowa delegation were invited).

Organizers hoped the event would offer a sharp contrast to the increasingly-dangerous rhetoric of Republican candidates for President, particularly Donald Trump. As Munson later noted in his column:

“The #UniteIowa on Immigration forum Saturday brought together 400 or so Iowans around a topic that tends to flare up with the slightest spark — especially with all the rhetorical gasoline poured on it by this summer’s presidential campaign. Yet we were able to create a temporary bubble of civility where it seemed OK to disagree.

As Brownstein notes, while leading anti-immigrant leader Steve King calls Iowa home (in fact, the #UniteIowa forum was held in his district. He was invited, but did not attend), it’s immigrants and minorities who are driving Iowa’s growth as the white population is declining. This is destined to significantly shift how immigration is discussed in the state, especially as Republican candidates visit:

All of the state’s pop­u­la­tion growth has come among ra­cial minor­it­ies. Since 2000, Lati­nos have nearly doubled in num­ber to al­most 158,000. The num­ber of Asi­ans and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans in the state has each in­creased by about half. The three groups now com­bine for nearly 11 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, up from about 6 per­cent in 2000.

Many of those in the [#UniteIowa] room worked for re­li­gious, pub­lic-health, or so­cial-wel­fare or­gan­iz­a­tions re­spond­ing to the demo­graph­ic trans­ition stead­ily re­shap­ing the state. Census Bur­eau fig­ures show that since 2000, non-His­pan­ic Whites have de­clined from about 93 per­cent of Iowa’s pop­u­la­tion to 88 per­cent. Over that time, the ab­so­lute num­ber of Whites liv­ing in Iowa has ac­tu­ally fallen by about 8,000.

As in most places, the change has come even faster among the young, which points to­ward com­pound­ing change in the fu­ture. Since 2000, the num­ber of Iowa Whites young­er than 20 has de­clined by over 88,000, ac­cord­ing to cal­cu­la­tions by demo­graph­er Wil­li­am Frey, a seni­or fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion’s Met­ro­pol­it­an Policy Pro­gram. Over the same peri­od, the state has ad­ded nearly 77,000 chil­dren of col­or young­er than 20. Non-White stu­dents now com­prise a ma­jor­ity in the pub­lic schools in Des Moines, the state’s largest city.

The change has also been mag­ni­fied in con­cen­trated pock­ets of the state, where em­ploy­ers have at­trac­ted im­mig­rant work­ers to fill loc­al em­ploy­ment needs, of­ten in the phys­ic­ally de­mand­ing meat­pack­ing in­dustry. Storm Lake is one of those places.

Once vir­tu­ally all White, it has been trans­formed by waves of im­mig­rants from South­east Asia (be­gin­ning in the 1970s) and Mex­ico (start­ing in the 1990s), drawn to em­ploy­ment in the area’s two meat­pack­ing and one egg-pro­cessing plants. Just since 2000, non-Latino Whites have fallen from more than four-fifths to just over three-fifths of the pop­u­la­tion in Buena Vista County (which in­cludes Storm Lake), while Lati­nos (mostly from Mex­ico) have doubled from about one-in-eight to one-in-four res­id­ents.

Kids of col­or now rep­res­ent the clear ma­jor­ity of the loc­al school sys­tem.

The immigration topic in Iowa has already gotten a huge national boost from local immigrant leaders like Monica Reyes, a DREAM Iowa cofounder who has confronted several Presidential candidates, and Emilia:

Emil­ia Mar­roquin, a nat­ur­al­ized cit­izen from El Sal­vador also at the SA­LUD booth, con­curred. She moved to the area 15 years ago from Los Angeles, which she said she left after her hus­band wit­nessed a shoot­ing. “At the time, it was a shock,” said Mar­roquin, a com­munity li­ais­on for the loc­al Head Start pro­gram. “But every­body was very wel­com­ing.” Mar­roquin has two chil­dren in the loc­al high schools, and says edu­cat­ors have sup­por­ted their mul­ti­cul­tur­al back­ground. “They en­cour­age the kids to speak Span­ish at home,” she said. “They really sup­port that be­ing bi­lin­gual is a plus.” Now Mar­roquin is plan­ning to seek elec­tion this fall as the first Latino mem­ber of the loc­al school board.

Mun­son, the Re­gister colum­nist who or­gan­ized the for­um, said the story of Iowa’s re­ac­tion to its im­mig­rant in­flux and demo­graph­ic change has largely fol­lowed the same tra­ject­ory, from con­cern to pre­dom­in­ant ac­cept­ance. “There was more anxi­ety 10-to-15 years ago,” he said. “Now the con­ver­sa­tion has gen­er­ally shif­ted. Now the broad story is say­ing that rur­al com­munit­ies are dy­ing, and … new waves of Iow­ans [im­mig­rants] are re­viv­ing those towns.”

Brownstein concludes:

Like it or not, Iowa in the com­ing months seems destined to be a stage where those [immigration] ques­tions and an­swers will be hotly de­bated.

The entire piece from Ron Brownstein, “How Iowa’s Population Mix Might Scramble its High-Stakes Caucuses,” is a must-read. The entire article is available here.