New York's Immigrants Creating a Local Contribution

January 11, 2008

In the newly released report Working for a Better Life: A Profile of Immigrants in the New York State Economy, immigrants were found to make up 21 percent of the state population, contribute broadly to the state economy, and over time, become part of local communities. The report was conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research and education organization that focuses on public policy issues that affect the quality of life and the economic well-being of New York State residents.

Primarily highlighting immigrants' economic impact in the area, the report showed that New York's immigrants are responsible for $229 billion in economic output in New York State; that's 22.4 percent of the state's total gross domestic product (GDP). "These figures should wipe away any impression that immigrants are holding the New York economy back," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, senior fellow of the Fiscal Policy Institute and principal author of the report. "In fact, immigrants are a central component of New York's economic growth." Within New York City, the report pointed to the nature of immigrants as a highly entrepreneurial group, bringing new ideas for goods and services in the local economy. Business growth in immigrant neighborhoods outpaces that in the rest of New York City and Working for a Better Life attributes a large part of New York City's urban revival to its immigrants.

According to the report, immigrants are found in the top, middle and bottom of the economic ladder, challenging the perception that most immigrants are low wage workers. Immigrants make up a third of real estate brokers, office clerks and receptionists and almost three quarters of nurses and health aids in New York City. In the midst of this, they are also the most represented population among low-skilled sectors. Among maids, housekeeping cleaners and construction laborers, immigrants make up over 70 percent of workers.

One of the reports most notable, and possibly useful, findings is the value of English skills. Pointing to how immigrants are mastering English as they spend more time in the country, the survey highlights the associated benefits. Immigrant salaries are over 25 percent higher among those who speak English very well than those who do not. (For a list of local, free or low cost ESL courses, visit http://www1.cuny.edu/about/citizenship/faqs/ESLandCivicsClasses.html)

A sign of financial as well as emotional investment in the city and its future is home ownership. According to the report, immigrants are making that investment at nearly the same rate as U.S.-born New Yorkers.

Allan Wernick, Project Director of the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project, comments that, "The report by the Fiscal Policy Institute is a welcome contribution to understanding the crucial role immigrants play in the economy of New York State. The findings are not surprising however - it is obvious to most New Yorkers that immigrants, legal and undocumented make a positive contribution to the welfare of the our state and city. This report is ammunition for immigrant's rights advocates in our fight to make New York a more immigrant friendly state."

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