Our new research reveals the many ways immigrants are helping revive the Great Lakes region.
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Immigrants and the economy in:


Iowa is currently home to more than 150,000 immigrants—a population larger than the city of Cedar Rapids. Between 2010 and 2014, Iowa’s foreign-born population grew by more than 9 percent. This helped Iowa stave off the sort of sluggish population growth that has hurt so many other areas in recent decades, depriving communities of needed workers and taxpayers. Iowa’s largely working-age immigrants serve as everything from meatpacking workers to college professors, making them critical contributors to Iowa’s economic success overall.

  • Immigrant Residents

  • Immigrant Share of Population

  • Immigrant Taxes Paid (2014)

  • Immigrant Spending Power (2014)

  • Immigrant Entrepreneurs

  • Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms



In the United States, immigrants are more likely to be working-age than their U.S.-born counterparts. This allows them to contribute to the U.S. economy and to entitlement programs as they work and pay taxes. This is equally true in Iowa, where immigrants are far more likely to be of working age than the U.S.-born population.

Age Group Foreign-Born Population Share Native-Born Population Share
0-24 23.3% 34.1%
25-64 70.4% 49.5%
65+ 6.3% 16.3%


In 2010, roughly one in 10 American workers with jobs at private firms were employed at immigrant-founded companies. Such businesses also generated more than $775 billion in annual business revenue that year. Iowa is currently home to almost 6,100 foreign-born entrepreneurs. Such business owners are creating real and meaningful economic opportunities to local, U.S.-born workers.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 25,399
Immigrant entrepreneurs 6,070
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $98.3M
Fortune 500 companies in Iowa founded by immigrants or their children 50.0%

Taxes & Spending Power

Nationally, immigrants earned $1.3 trillion in 2014 and contributed more than $104 billion in state and local taxes, as well as almost $224 billion in federal taxes. This left them with nearly $927 billion in spending power. Immigrants in Iowa play an important role contributing to the state’s economy, both as consumers and taxpayers.

Immigrant Household Income $4.1B
Taxes Paid $1.2B
State & Local Taxes $348.9M
Federal Taxes $820.3M
Total Spending Power $3.0B


Nationally, immigrants are 17.2 percent more likely to hold an advanced degree than the native-born. They are also more likely to have less than a high school education. Uniquely, this allows them to fill critical shortages at both ends of the skill spectrum, from high-tech fields to agriculture, hospitality, and service industries. This holds true in Iowa, where immigrants play a particularly large role as packers, butchers, and software developers.

Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 28.6% 6.6%
High School & Some College 39.2% 65.8%
Bachelor's Degree 16.1% 18.6%
Graduate Degree 16.1% 9.0%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Meatpacking and processing  37.9%
Computer systems design and related services  18.7%
Miscellaneous wood products  15.5%
Services to buildings and dwellings  15.3%
Lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores  14.6%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders 52.3%
Butchers and other meat, poultry, and fish processing workers 38.4%
Software developers, applications and systems software 31.5%
Designers 23.2%
Physicians and Surgeons 19.8%

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Between 2014 and 2024, science, technology, engineering, and math—or “STEM”—fields are projected to play a key role in U.S. economic growth, adding almost 800,000 new jobs and growing 37.0 percent faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Immigrants are already playing a huge part ensuring that Iowa remains a leading innovator in industries like automated manufacturing, communication electronics, and bioscience.

STEM workers who are immigrants 10.5%
STEM Master’s students who are foreign nationals 29.1%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 48.6%


In the coming years, the American healthcare industry is projected to see rapid growth—adding more new positions from 2014 to 2024 than any other industry in our economy. In Iowa, a state where more than one out of every 6 people is currently elderly, finding enough healthcare workers remains a challenge—and one that will likely worsen in the future.

Open healthcare jobs to unemployed healthcare workers 17:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 21.6%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 28.2%
Nurses who are foreign-born 1.8%
Health aides who are foreign-born 5.0%


Immigrant families have long played an important role helping to build housing wealth in the United States. In recent decades, the more than 40 million immigrants collectively in the country increased U.S. housing wealth by $3.7 trillion. Much of this was possible because immigrants moved into neighborhoods once in decline, helping to revitalize communities and make them more attractive to U.S.-born residents. In Iowa, immigrants are actively strengthening the state’s housing market.

Immigrant homeowners 31,572
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 3.5%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $4.0B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $22.2M

International Students

International students in the United States contributed more than $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2014-2015 school year and supported more than 370,000 jobs through their tuition payments and day-to-day spending. Research has found that increases in the number of international students at American universities boost innovation and patent creation. International students represent a small portion of all students in Iowa, but they make a big impact.

Students at Iowa colleges and universities who are international 4.6%
Economic contribution of international students $362.4M
Jobs supported by international students 3,749

Voting Power

In 2014, Iowa was home to more than 51,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 26,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are particularly meaningful given the narrow margins of victory that have decided elections in the state in recent years. In 2012, President Barack Obama won Iowa by less than 92,000 votes.

Immigrants eligible to vote 51,408
Immigrants registered to vote 26,070
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 59,891
2012 presidential election margin of victory 91,927

Undocumented Immigrants

The United States is currently home to an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom have lived in the country for more than five years. The presence of so many undocumented immigrants for such a long time presents many legal and political challenges. But while politicians continue to debate what to do about illegal immigration without any resolution, millions of undocumented immigrants are actively working across the country, and collectively, these immigrants have a large impact on the U.S. economy. This is true in Iowa, where undocumented immigrants contribute tens of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

Undocumented immigrants 41,796
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 78.6%
Undocumented entrepreneurs 1,528
Undocumented Household Income $584.4M
Taxes Paid $69.5M
State & Local Taxes $27.6M
Federal Taxes $41.9M
Total Spending Power $514.9M

The Economic Impact of Refugees

Despite leaving extreme and dangerous situations in their home countries, refugees are often able to rebound and prosper as they become more integrated into American society. Nationwide, we find that refugees hold billions of dollars in spending power and pay more than $20 billion in tax contributions to federal, state, and local governments each year. At the state level, they contribute millions of added dollars to local economies, making them an important driver of growth and prosperity for communities around the country.

Key Stats
Number of Likely Refugees 20,395
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 0.9%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.7%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $573.6M
Taxes Paid $150.7M
State & Local Taxes $50.5M
Federal Taxes $100.2M
Refugee Spending Power $422.9M

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