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A Career Economist Makes the Case for Immigrants

Economist Ann Markusen has spent three decades studying what makes the U.S. economy tick. And a recent teaching post in Canada re-affirmed her view that a welcome approach to immigrants is good for a nation’s bottom line.

“Canada’s liberal immigration policies and the nonprofit sector’s efforts to find housing and jobs for immigrants have spurred economic growth,” says the former Brookings Institution scholar. The same is true in America. “Immigrants bring considerable skills with them to the United States,” she says. “People working in the most tedious or difficult jobs are making important contributions to our economy.”

People working in the most tedious or difficult jobs are making important contributions to our economy.

In Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, which encompasses the northeast portion of the state and includes Markusen’s home, just 1.6 percent of the population is comprised of immigrants, or some 10,800 residents. Their impact as workers, however, adds up. Immigrants in the district pay $66.8 million in taxes, and hold $182.2 million in annual spending power. Across the state, they make up a critical segment of the workforce, particularly in jobs that are proving unattractive to many U.S.-born workers today. It’s why, Markusen notes, many segments of her state’s business community support immigration.  “In Minnesota, our poultry industry and other farmers have relied for decades on Mexican, Somali, and Hmong workers, many of whom work in challenging workplaces for low pay,” she says. “Our high-tech industries also employ many immigrants, both the highly educated and lower skilled.”

Although Minnesota can be desperately cold during winter, many Hmong, Somali, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, South Asian, and Central American refugees have come to the state  because local groups have welcomed them and helped them to assimilate. A 2016 analysis by the Center For American Progress found that refugees assimilate well into the United States and after a decade have rates of business ownership and labor-force participation similar to that of U.S.-born Americans.

“The American economy grows and thrives on immigrants seeking work and freedom from terror, war and poverty. They often fill the worst jobs, learn English, buy a home or small farm, and enrich our cuisine and cultures,” Markusen wrote in a  2017 op-ed in the weekly Cloquet Pine Journal. “Both the U.S. and Canadian economies have expanded from immigration over the past few decades, avoiding the stasis and aging of populations that have held Europe back. . . .  Let’s welcome newcomers to our communities.”

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