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Immigrants and the economy in:

South Dakota
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While today only 2.7 percent of South Dakota’s residents are foreign-born, the state has begun attracting more immigrants in recent years. Many employers, particularly those in fields such as steel production and advanced manufacturing, are experiencing major workforce shortages in technical fields; the more than 23,000 immigrants in South Dakota are already playing a vital role in filling workforce gaps. These new Americans serve as everything from meatpackers to college professors, making them critical contributions to the state’s overall economic success.

  • 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 South Dakota, 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 23.5% 35.2%
25-64 66.7% 49.6%
65+ 9.8% 15.2%


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. South Dakota is currently home to almost 900 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 11,757
Immigrant entrepreneurs 871
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $7.1M

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 South Dakota play an important role contributing to the state’s economy, both as consumers and taxpayers.

Immigrant Household Income $429.7M
Taxes Paid $90.6M
State & Local Taxes $32.6M
Federal Taxes $58.0M
Total Spending Power $339.1M


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 South Dakota, where immigrants play a particularly large role as butchers, truck operators, and postsecondary teachers.

Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 33.9% 7.7%
High School & Some College 46.4% 65.6%
Bachelor's Degree 9.2% 20.2%
Graduate Degree 10.5% 6.6%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Meatpacking and processing  47.4%
Religious organizations  10.8%
Motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment  9.4%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools including junior colleges 8.9%
Services to buildings and dwellings  8.5%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Butchers and Other Meat Poultry and Fish Processing Workers 47.8%
Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators 40.4%
First-Line Supervisors of Production and Operating Workers 18.7%
Shipping Receiving and Traffic Clerks 17.3%
Postsecondary Teachers 16.9%

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 South Dakota remains a leading innovator in industries like precision manufacturing and electronics.

STEM workers who are immigrants 4.0%
STEM Master’s students who are foreign nationals 19.1%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 52.5%


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 South Dakota, a state where nearly one out of every 7 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 31:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 17.4%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 28.3%
Nurses who are foreign-born 1.7%
Health aides who are foreign-born 4.6%


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 South Dakota, immigrants are actively strengthening the state’s housing market.

Immigrant homeowners 3,917
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 2.3%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $563M
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $3.5M

International Students

International students in the United States also 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 also 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 South Dakota, but they make a big impact.

Students at South Dakota colleges and universities who are international 3.3%
Economic contribution of international students $29.5M
Jobs supported by international students 233

Voting Power

In 2014, South Dakota was home to almost 10,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 4,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by roughly 66,000 votes in 2012. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries.

Immigrants eligible to vote 9,841
Immigrants registered to vote 4,158
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 11,791
2012 presidential election margin of victory 65,571

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 South Dakota, where undocumented immigrants play small but significant roles in the manufacturing, agriculture, and accommodation and food service industries.

Undocumented immigrants 4,071
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 80.0%
Undocumented entrepreneurs 151

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 4,321
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 0.2%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.5%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $66.2M
Taxes Paid $13.6M
State & Local Taxes $4.8M
Federal Taxes $8.8M
Refugee Spending Power $52.6M

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