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Minnesota’s immigrant population: facts — and questions

A report released today offers a close-up look at Minnesota’s immigrant population, and highlights some important and provocative questions.

For Minnesota — a state with a rich history of immigrants continuing to the present — a report released today offers a close-up look at the state’s immigrant population, then asks: “Where do we go from here?”

Begin with this nugget: in 2008, 6.5 percent of Minnesota’s total population was foreign born, having grown by more than 130 percent during the 1990s.

The study is commissioned by The Minneapolis Foundation and is called “A New Age of Immigrants: Making Immigration Work for Minnesota.” (Community Sketchbook is made possible by support from The Minneapolis Foundation.) The study has a two-fold purpose: to bring the immigrant population here into focus and to identify “some key areas for further research and discussion.”

It is timely, the report suggests, given that immigration is a politically charged issue right now, that the general population is tending grayer and retiring, and that the economy has gone global.

Calling this the new age of immigrants, the report highlights such provocative questions as these regarding immigrants: “What sort of impact do they have on the state’s economy and our public institutions? What role should immigration play in Minnesota’s future?”

Wilder did the research, compiling literature and statistics from national, state and local sources, at the request of The Minneapolis Foundation, which has been studying and teaching about immigration in the state for a decade.

A 12-page summary of the report was made public today at a conference on “Immigrants and refugees in Minnesota: today’s students, tomorrow’s workforce” at Wilder Center in St. Paul.

Written by Jessica Meyerson, with Greg Owen the principal investigator, the full report runs deep at 70 pages, but some highlights follow.

Who they are
Asians, at nearly 40 percent of the state’s immigrant population, make up the largest group, though we have large populations of Africans and Central and South Americans. This contrasts with the country as a whole, where Latino immigrants predominate.

In recent years one in five of the state’s new immigrants have been a refugee or a person fleeing persecution in their homeland.

Minnesota’s undocumented population could range from 55,000 to 85,000, but the state demographer and the Minnesota Legislative Auditor consider the estimate “not reliable.”

What does it mean to the workforce and economy?

The largest numbers of the state’s foreign-born residents are “working-age adults” between the ages of 18 and 65 at a period where Minnesota’s general population is aging out of the workforce.

Immigrant workers are “concentrated at the very-low and very-high skill ends of the spectrum,” according to the study, with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce reporting that “many” of the low skills workers doing labor-intensive, low paying jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, and a variety of service industries. ” Twenty-seven percent of foreign-born adults lack a high school diploma or GED. 

Immigrants pay taxes, start businesses and consume products. Immigrants, for instance, own about 3 percent of Minnesota’s businesses and Latino workers in southwest Minnesota alone generate about $45 million in state and local taxes in 2000.

A 2000 study figured Latinos added almost $500 million to the economy in south-central Minnesota.

Educational needs
According to the report: educational needs of some immigrant students are challenging some communities because of lack of resources, though immigrant students graduate at rates similar to native students if they speak English well. Drop-out rates are “considerably higher” for students with limited English.

Poverty rates
Immigrant families living in Minnesota are three times more likely to be poor than native-born families.

Public cash assistance and food stamps
They do receive financial aid. In 2008, 6.8 percent of the foreign-born group reported receiving some type of cash assistance income from public programs in contrast to 2.8 percent of native-born people. Food stamps were used by 12.8 percent.

Health care
According to the findings, despite high poverty rates, Minnesota’s immigrants “do not use a disproportionately large share of public health dollars.” At about 6.5 percent of the state population, they make up about that 7 percent of enrollment in state public health programs.

Undocumented immigrants here are eligible for prenatal health care and the Emergency Medical Assistance Program, but usage has been very low.

Crime rates did not rise in recent years, though immigrant populations increased.

Where to from here?
The report is designed as a starting point for discussion, posing many unanswered questions, including these:

How has the immigrant community been affected by the economic recession?

Are immigrant workers competing for jobs with natives and what is the effect?

How have immigration patterns and numbers changed since the 2000 Census?

Additional materials and a discussion about immigration are available at Minnesota Compass here.