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Immigrants and the economy in:

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Today, Hawaii is home to more than a quarter of a million immigrants. In only five other states is a higher share of the population foreign-born. Immigrants in Hawaii play an important role contributing to the state as both taxpayers and consumers. By spending the money they earn at businesses such as hair salons, grocery stores, and coffee shops, immigrants also support small business owners and job creation in the communities where they live.

  • Immigrant Residents

  • Immigrant Share of Population

  • Immigrant Taxes Paid

  • Immigrant Spending Power

  • 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 Hawaii, 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 5.3% 22.4%
16-64 71.4% 61.9%
65+ 23.3% 15.7%


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 Hawaii, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching above their weight class as entrepreneurs. Immigrants make up roughly one in five entrepreneurs in the state, despite being just 18.0 percent of Hawaii’s population.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 38,048
Immigrant entrepreneurs 18,726
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $462.1M

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

Immigrant Household Income $7.9B
Taxes Paid $2.2B
State & Local Taxes $737.7M
Federal Taxes $1.5B
Total Spending Power $5.7B


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 Hawaii, where immigrants play a particularly large role as nursing aides, taxi drivers, and agricultural managers.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 19.0% 4.4%
High School & Some College 54.0% 60.8%
Bachelor's Degree 19.6% 22.7%
Graduate Degree 7.3% 12.2%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Grocery stores 35.8%
Traveler accommodation 33.9%
Restaurants and other food services 33.1%
Real estate 28.0%
Hospitals 24.2%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 76.4%
Cooks 52.2%
Janitors and building cleaners 42.9%
Grounds maintenance workers 42.4%
Cashiers 35.9%

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 Hawaii remains a leading innovator in industries like defense and advanced manufacturing.

STEM workers who are immigrants 11.9%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 14.4%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 38.8%


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 Hawaii, 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 13:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 15.3%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 21.3%
Nurses who are foreign-born 23.9%
Health aides who are foreign-born 43.4%


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

Immigrant homeowners 45,867
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 20.8%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $31.3B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $572.0M

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 Hawaii, but they make a big impact.

Students at Hawaii colleges and universities who are international students 6.1%
Economic contribution of international students $103.0M
Jobs supported by international students 916

Voting Power

Nationwide, the power of immigrant voters is likely to continue to be a large factor in upcoming elections. Although few would call Hawaii a swing state, the sheer size of the immigrant voting bloc here means it has a meaningful impact on the way the state votes in both national and state elections.

Immigrants eligible to vote 140,397
Immigrants registered to vote 67,159
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 144,290
2016 presidential election margin of victory 138,044

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 Hawaii, where undocumented immigrants contribute tens of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

Undocumented immigrants 49,625
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 85.4%

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 7,892
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 0.3%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.6%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $255.7M
Taxes Paid $70.1M
State & Local Taxes $25.2M
Federal Taxes $44.9M
Refugee Spending Power $185.6M

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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…