Minnesota’s economy needs the boost from immigration

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rather than being seen as a “problem,’’ Minnesota’s growing immigrant population should be viewed as an important part of the state’s future prosperity.

That’s the smart conclusion of a state business coalition’s report on the economic contributions of Minnesota’s new Americans. Last week, the Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition and the state Chamber of Commerce released a study that documents why any state investments in immigrants bring multiple returns. It wisely calls immigrants important “capital’’ because they provide the state with labor, new businesses, culture, consumers and connections to global markets.

The findings underscore the need to approve comprehensive federal immigration reform. That U.S. Senate passed a bill in June that would do just that. It addresses paths to permanent residency and citizenship, border security and the visa system. Now the House must take action as well, preferably by the end of the year, before midterm election politics interfere.

Email newsletter signup

Of the state’s roughly 375,000 immigrants, just under half are U.S. citizens; between 31 and 40 percent are authorized noncitizens, and between 14 and 23 percent are undocumented, according to the report.

The recent research reinforces a similar study done three years ago. In 2010, the Minneapolis Foundation commissioned Wilder Research to collect data about the cultural, economic and social impact of the latest waves of new Americans. Some of the findings countered misconceptions. There was no evidence, for example, that the state’s increased immigrant population brought an increase in crime.

In Minnesota, despite somewhat higher poverty rates, the state’s immigrants do not use disproportional shares of public health dollars. And most adults in their peak wage-­earning years are employed at rates only slight lower than those of the general population.

New Americans and their families start businesses at rates three times higher than that of the general population and have played a key role in revitalizing stretches of Lake Street in Minneapolis and University Avenue in St. Paul.

Bill Blazar, senior vice president at the chamber, said the data prove that it is shortsighted to just focus on costs to government in the early years. “Their contributions to the economy grow over time,” he said. “There’s no question that when they first arrive, there’s some cost associated with them becoming part of our community and part of the workforce. But they pretty quickly become part of the workforce and then pay taxes and start contributing like everyone else.”

New Americans are key to the state’s future prosperity. Demographically, they have higher percentages of people of peak working age to fill jobs, expand the tax base and contribute to programs like Social Security. Providing education, training and language courses for English-language learners is an investment that reaps enormous societal and economic returns.

The business report joins studies from Wilder, the University of Minnesota and the state legislative auditor that conclude the net economic effects of immigration are positive. And as the chamber report recommends, more must be done to help immigrants integrate through education, housing, health care and employment systems.

With that support, immigrants will continue to expand their contributions as consumers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers, workers — and as Minnesotans with the language and cultural skills to help connect the state to other markets in our increasingly global economy.