Immigrants and the economy in:


Iowa is currently home to more than 160,000 immigrants—a population larger than the city of Cedar Rapids. Between 2010 and 2016, Iowa’s foreign-born population grew by more than 15.2 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

  • 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 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
0-15 8.5% 21.2%
16-64 84.5% 61.9%
65+ 7.0% 17.0%


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 10,000 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 9,707
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $181.5M
Fortune 500 companies in Iowa founded by immigrants or their children 33.3%

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

Immigrant Household Income $3.8B
Taxes Paid $891.6M
State & Local Taxes $344.6M
Federal Taxes $547.0M
Total Spending Power $2.9B


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 Iowa, where immigrants play a particularly large role as packers, butchers, and software developers.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 34.2% 6.8%
High School & Some College 36.7% 64.3%
Bachelor's Degree 14.3% 19.7%
Graduate Degree 14.7% 9.2%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Animal slaughtering and processing 55.7%
Gasoline stations 15.5%
Computer systems design and related services 15.2%
Animal production and aquaculture 12.6%
Department and discount stores 12.5%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Postsecondary teachers 20.7%
Miscellaneous agricultural workers 16.5%
Construction laborers 14.8%
Cooks 13.5%
Electricians 12.9%

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 Iowa remains a leading innovator in industries like automated manufacturing, communication electronics, and bioscience.

STEM workers who are immigrants 9.2%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 20.7%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 41.5%


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 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 18:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 21.6%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 28.2%
Nurses who are foreign-born 1.9%
Health aides who are foreign-born 4.5%


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 29,366
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 4.1%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $5.2B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $299.5M

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 Iowa, but they make a big impact.

Students at Iowa colleges and universities who are international students 4.2%
Economic contribution of international students $381.5M
Jobs supported by international students 3,869

Voting Power

In 2016, Iowa was home to more than 59,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 30,000 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 2016, Donald Trump won Iowa by 147,000 votes.

Immigrants eligible to vote 59,288
Immigrants registered to vote 30,769
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 65,436
2016 presidential election margin of victory 147,314

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

Undocumented immigrants 47,907
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 89.5%

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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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…