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Immigrants and the economy in:

District of Columbia

In recent years, the district has been particularly notable for how its foreign-born population has grown. Between 2010 and 2016, the district’s foreign-born population grew by 10.8 percent—a rate well above the national average. The more than 90,000 new Americans living in the district today serve as everything from high school teachers to economists, making them an important part of the economic success of the city.

  • Immigrant Residents

  • Immigrant Share of Population

  • Immigrant Taxes Paid

  • Immigrant Spending Power

  • Immigrant Entrepreneurs

  • Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms (Combined with Delaware)



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 Washington, D.C., 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
0-15 4.6% 18.0%
16-64 84.5% 70.3%
65+ 10.9% 11.7%


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. In the District of Columbia, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching above their weight class as entrepreneurs.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms (combined with Delaware) 41,672
Immigrant entrepreneurs 5,127
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $164.2M

Taxes & Spending Power

Nationally, immigrants earned $1.4 trillion in 2016 and contributed more than $117 billion in state and local taxes, as well as almost $262 billion in federal taxes. This left them with more than $1.0 billion in spending power. Immigrants in Washington, D.C. 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 $342.6M
Federal Taxes $873.3M
Total Spending Power $2.8B


Nationally, immigrants are 9.2 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 Washington, D.C., where immigrants play a particularly large role as janitors, financial managers, and economists.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 23.0% 7.6%
High School & Some College 23.5% 34.4%
Bachelor's Degree 20.9% 24.7%
Graduate Degree 32.5% 33.3%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Restaurants and other food services 29.4%
National security and international affairs 26.6%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 19.6%
Computer systems design and related services 17.3%
Scientific research and development services 15.4%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Management analysts 10.2%
Miscellaneous managers, including funeral service 7.8%
Lawyers, and judges, magistrates, and other judicial 6.1%

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 Washington, D.C. remains a leading innovator in industries like advanced biotechnology and technical consulting.

STEM workers who are immigrants 18.2%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 23.8%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 19.9%


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 Washington, D.C. where more than one out of every 9 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 10:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 22.0%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 26.8%
Nurses who are foreign-born 15.3%
Health aides who are foreign-born 30.2%


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 Washington, D.C., immigrants are actively strengthening the state’s housing market.

Immigrant homeowners 15,265
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 13.5%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $11.7B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $446.7M

International Students

International students in the United States contributed more than $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2016-2017 school year and supported more than 450,000 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 Washington, D.C., but they make a big impact.

Students at District of Columbia colleges and universities who are international students 10.3%
Economic contribution of international students $407.7M
Jobs supported by international students 4,606

Voting Power

Nationwide, the power of immigrant voters is likely to continue to be a large factor in upcoming elections. While immigrants may not sway the outcomes of presidential elections in this reliably Democratic area—Hillary Clinton won here by more than 270,000 votes—they may have an impact on local and primary elections.

Immigrants eligible to vote 39,312
Immigrants registered to vote 26,817
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 43,424
2016 presidential election margin of victory 270,107

Undocumented Immigrants

The United States is currently home to an estimated 11.0 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 Washington, D.C., where undocumented immigrants contribute tens of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

Undocumented immigrants 21,992
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 88.7%

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 6,048
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 0.3%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.9%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $232.3M
Taxes Paid $65.0M
State & Local Taxes $19.8M
Federal Taxes $45.2M
Refugee Spending Power $167.4M

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…