I recently completed a report on the economic contributions of people of Mexican origin in Minnesota. In the process I encountered a lot of myths that do not have their basis in facts. Here are some of these myths:
This article was originally published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
They are all here illegally: According to the 2006 American Community Survey, more than 60 percent of the people of Mexican origin in Minnesota are American citizens. This community can trace its roots in Minnesota to the 1800s. Further, there are other citizens and residents of Minnesota coming from many countries of Central and South America who are all considered in the popular perception to be “Mexican,” which is incorrect.
They cost too much: This perception derives from a flawed economic analysis that focuses only on taxes paid and government benefits received. In reality, people of Mexican origin in Minnesota contribute to the economy as consumers (almost a billion dollars), as workers (more than 80,000), as entrepreneurs and employers (almost 2,000), as taxpayers ($283 million), as future human capital (to support our aging population), as global capital (trade with Mexico is almost $2 billion), as cultural capital (lucrative cultural heritage tourism market), and as political capital. If we measure all these economic contributions, we will find that the benefits outweigh the costs.
They broke the law: Usually this is aimed at the undocumented worker but is stated so loosely that it imposes a stigma on a wide range of citizens beyond the Latino community. What people do not understand is that there are three large forces at work that created this situation of “illegality” of undocumented workers.
The first is our market system — demand and supply. These workers are here because of an established demand for their services.
The second: Our political system did not create a legal way for supply to meet this demand.
The third force is the movement of people all over the world from conditions of destitution or low standards of living toward oases of prosperity. So we have a dysfunctional WND (Wink and Nod) immigration policy that allowed demand without creating a space for supply. In our latest WND policy twist, locally and nationally, we are borrowing a page from the Pentagon with a “shock and awe” enforcement strategy aimed at reducing supply without dealing with the realities of demand.
They take our jobs: If this statement is aimed at citizens, it is wrong, as these workers compete in the market for work. If it is aimed at undocumented workers, the kinds of jobs these workers do are in the low-wage, back-breaking, finger-numbing and high-turnover tasks that most people do not want to do. In rural areas facing population decline, they meet the labor needs of industries located there.
They are poorly educated: The majority of people — 57 percent — of this community have a high school degree or higher.
They do not want to speak English: There is a more than $20,000 premium in earnings between those who speak English well versus those who do not. English is the language of business. One also has to look at intergenerational statistics to see that this perception is not based on facts. Further, the ethnic economy on its own will not get someone on the Forbes list of billionaires — to be successful in America one has to be part of the mainstream, with the ability to speak fluent English with a mainstream accent (unless of course you are a movie star like Arnold Schwarzenegger).
We should deport the undocumented workers: This popular opinion is usually not backed up with detailed contingency plans; in the short term to help the economy as it adjusts to a severe labor shortage and, in the longer term, how we can meet the demand for workers.
They are not American: If this statement refers to immigrants in general, then we could heed the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln in a speech on July 10, 1858. Americans, Lincoln said, are tied by a bond greater than blood to the Founding Fathers in the “moral sentiment” expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Those who share this moral sentiment, then, are as American as apple pie or Minnesota hotdish.
It is time to move from policies and opinions based on perceptions to those based on facts.
Bruce Corrie is professor of economics and director of the Strategic Business Design Institute, Concordia University, St. Paul. His e-mail address is at HYPERLINK “mailto:brucecorrie%40gmail.com”firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are his own. The study he writes about is available online at