1. The immigrant population is growing rapidly.
Since 1990 Minnesota’s immigrant population has grown by more than 200 percent! That is 10 times faster than the growth rate for the native-born population during that same period (19%). While Minnesota still has proportionally fewer immigrants than the U.S. as a whole (7% compared with 13% nationally), we are catching up. What’s more, while the Twin Cities remain the most common destination for immigrants to our state, the foreign-born population is growing throughout the state.
2. Minnesota’s immigrant population is different from the U.S. as a whole.
In recent years, immigration has been the subject of heated national debate. Sometimes that same debate has crept into Minnesota’s policy discussions. The only problem with that is that things actually look different here. As pointed out in A New Age of Immigrants, a recent study done by Wilder Research for the Minneapolis Foundation, over half of all immigrants nationally are from Latin America, including Mexico. In Minnesota only about one-quarter of the immigrant population is from Latin America. Nationally only 4 percent of the immigrant population is from Africa. Here that figure is 20 percent.
On top of that is the fact that immigrants in Minnesota are much more likely to be refugees fleeing war-torn countries than are immigrants in most other states. In recent years, one in five of the state’s new immigrants has been a refugee or asylee fleeing persecution in their homeland.
3. As a group, immigrants are younger.
If you plot on a graph the number of people in each age category by 5-year increments by nativity, you will see a very obvious bulge among the native-born population, representing the baby boom generation. That bulge does not exist, however, for the state’s immigrant population, whose median age is somewhere in the low 30s. That has big implications for our current – and future – workforce.
4. A lot of Minnesota’s kids are children of immigrants.
Although many children are adopted from abroad, they and other child immigrants make up a relatively small proportion of our state’s overall school-aged and younger population. A bigger portion of kids, including one in every six pre-schoolers, are first generation Americans, straddling the culture (and sometimes language) of their parents and that of the U.S.
5. When it comes to health, immigrants tend to have an advantage.
Although this “immigrant health paradox” is a surprise to most of us, it is well known among public health researchers. And Minnesota is no exception. In a recent study commissioned by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, we found that mortality rates for U.S.-born blacks were more than three times higher than those of foreign-born blacks in the Twin Cities. In fact the mortality rates of African immigrants were slightly lower than those of whites in our region, despite the huge gaps in income and education between the two groups.
6. Some immigrants are highly educated (others are not).
It may not surprise you that a higher proportion of Minnesota’s native-born population has a high school diploma than does our immigrant population (93% compared with 72%). It may, however, surprise some of you that advanced degrees are slightly more common among the state’s immigrant population than the rest of us (14% and 10%, respectively).
7. Most immigrants are employed, especially those who have been here 5 or more years.
The best comparative data that we have on workforce participation lags current market conditions by a few years, but it is still telling. According to census data collected from 2006-2008, about 73 percent of the local immigrant population age 16 to 64 was working for pay – not far off the 78 percent reported for the Twin Cities’ native-born population during that same time period.
What’s more, the overall rate of immigrant employment is pulled down a bit by the lower rate of the most recent immigrants; the workforce participation for those who have been here fewer than 5 years is 61 percent. Those who’ve been here longer have virtually the same workforce participation rates as the native-born population. Of course this does not mean that everyone is working in the jobs that they would like, or our local economy is taking full advantage of the skills available among the immigrant workforce – but the same could be said for at least some of the native-born population as well.
8. Workforce participation rates vary considerably by specific immigrant group.
Almost by definition immigrants are a diverse group. Also push and pull factors lead to waves of immigration at different times and with different skill sets. A current snapshot of the largest immigrant groups in Minnesota shows workforce participation rates varying from highs of over 75 percent for those born in India, Ethiopia, Liberia, Russia, Vietnam, and China to a low of 55 percent for the most recent of the larger immigration populations, Somali immigrants. Differences by gender are even more dramatic.
9. Our future workforce may be even more dependent on immigrants.
As the baby boom generation enters retirement, the workforce is changing dramatically. Currently, for every 1 person of retirement age there are 5 people in their prime working years, age 18 to 64. If current projections hold, by 2030 this “old age dependency ratio” will be cut nearly in half with just under 3 workforce-aged people for every 1 person in their golden years!
This change raises questions like: Will there be enough health care workers to support the aging population? What about tax revenues? For that matter, will there be enough workers (who are both producers and consumers) to fuel continued economic growth in our region? Obviously one of many ways to increase the size of our future workforce is to welcome and educate young immigrants coming to our region.
10. Our future prosperity depends on closing the achievement gap.
Regardless of whether we actively seek to increase immigration to our state, our future workforce will be dependent on the relatively young immigrants who are already here. As noted above, immigrants tend to be younger than the rest of us, and many are in their childbearing years.
Unfortunately, whether we look at 3rd grade reading scores, 11th grade math scores, or high school graduation rates, there are yawning gaps between students with limited English proficiency and English-speaking students. Closing these gaps is in our collective best interest.
As always, if you have any reactions or would like to suggest additional resources on the topic, let us know.