Immigration and Urbanization

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How and why did cities grow in the late nineteenth century?

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The second half of the Nineteenth Century was a time period of rapid and dramatic urbanization. This was partly a factor of immigration patterns, but it was also closely tied to the country's rapid industrialization. Industrial Economies involve strong tendencies towards urbanization. Industrialization (as oppose to the agriculturally based pre-industrial economy) requires far larger concentrations of workers in order to effectively run institutions like mines, factories or foundries, and so manufacturing centers must be inevitably linked with these densely populated urban centers. Therefore, as countries industrialize, you usually will observe job opportunities migrating from the countryside to the cities. Thus, as the country moved more and more into the modern era, and the process of industrialization only accelerated, it should not be surprising that cities grew dramatically as well. The two tend to be closely linked.

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In the late 1800s, cities grew mainly through immigration. As can be seen in the link below, there were huge numbers of immigrants in American cities by this time period.  Foreign-born people made up 33% of the population of large cities by 1870.  Many important cities like Chicago and New York had populations that were over 40% immigrant.

Typically, these immigrants stayed in the cities in large part because that was where economic opportunity was.  This was a time when the US was becoming more and more industrialized and there was plenty of work in cities for people without any particular skills.  Because there were so many (albeit hard, low-paying, and menial) jobs in the cities, immigrants ended up staying in those cities.

Of course, this was not all good.  The influx of immigrants (many or most of them poor) caused all sorts of problems in cities.  Chief among these were things like unsafe housing, crime (including organized crime), and corruption in city governments.

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