Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

JLL generously supports MinnPost’s New Americans coverage.

State report: Minnesota needs immigrants to fill jobs and maintain economic growth

The report argues that foreign-born residents are critical for the state’s labor market and that business leaders in Minnesota desperately need them to fill jobs and maintain economic growth.

Goodwill and compassion aside, Minnesota needs more immigrants to fill job vacancies, sustain economic growth and expand the labor market, which has been shrinking over the years as baby boomers continue to age out of the workforce.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report — “Immigrants and the Economy” — that chronicles the past and present of immigration trends to the state and demonstrates how foreign-born workers have contributed to the labor force growth in recent decades.  

Authored by Steve Hines and Cameron Macht, economists at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the report also sheds light on the need to keep the immigration pipeline open as means of combating the looming workforce shortage in Minnesota.

The release of the “Immigrants and the Economy” comes at a time when some Republican leaders and activists in Minnesota and nationwide are pushing back hard against immigration and calling for plans to limit the stream of legal immigrants into the United States. 

Contrary to some of that political rhetoric, the report argues that foreign-born residents are critical for the state’s labor market and that business leaders in Minnesota desperately need them to fill jobs and maintain economic growth.  

“At this point, more of our recent workforce growth has been driven by immigrants,” said Oriane Casale, assistant director of the labor market information office at DEED. “So you can see the importance of immigrants; [they’re] … adding vitality to the labor force.”

Casale is referring to the more than 450,000 foreign-born residents — or about one in every 12 people in the state — most of whom have made Minnesota their home in the past 20 years, according to the report.

Throughout those years, immigrants didn’t just expand the state’s overall population; their participation rate in the workforce has mushroomed as well. In contrast, the workforce participation rate for native-born workers has declined during that period.

To put that in numbers, workforce participation rates for all residents in Minnesota was 71 percent in 2006, Hines and Macht note in the report. Ten years later, though, that number fell to 69 percent for native-born workers and jumped up nearly 73 percent for foreign-born workers.

“Put another way,” the report adds, “the foreign-born labor force expanded by 40 percent from 2006 to 2016, compared with 2.4 percent growth among the native-born workforce.”

When it comes educational attainment levels, a large segment of foreign-born adults (33 percent) who are aged 25 years or older now have a bachelor’s degree or higher, a number that’s parallel to that of native-born Minnesotans.  

Still, a large group of the immigrant population — nearly 46 percent — have only a high school diploma or less. Of those, 27 percent didn’t complete high school. That compares with 31 percent of native-born Minnesotans with a high school diploma, and 5 percent who didn’t complete high school.

The data explain why so many immigrants are concentrated in service, production and transportation occupations. In fact, while 24 percent of native-born Minnesotans have office and sales jobs, only 15 percent of their foreign-born counterparts have those jobs.

“These gaps are even more pronounced for foreign-born workers who are not citizens, who presumably have entered more recently,” the report states, adding that nearly 46 percent of this group are in service, production, transportation and material moving occupations.

In the taxi and limousine service industry, immigrant workers account for more than 30 percent; in the personal care industry, they’re 18 percent; and in the packaging industry, they’re 35 percent.

Occupation of employment for Minnesota workers by place of birth and citizenship
U.S. Census Bureau
Occupation of employment for Minnesota workers by place of birth and citizenship status, 2016

Even in occupations with large concentrations of immigrants, there’s still a “critical workforce shortage” in the state, according to the report. For example, employers in the construction, home health and personal care are struggling to find workers to fill job vacancies.

“Diminished labor force growth has been obvious in recent years, and it is expected to fall further in the years ahead,” the report states. “Job growth will be constrained by the lack of an available workforce, especially in areas of Greater Minnesota that also have a lower share of both immigrants and minorities.”

Casale said the shortage is driven in part by the aging population of the native-born workforce as well as the growing economy, which is producing more jobs than there are people to fill them.

To address the issues, said Casale, Minnesota needs to open up its doors for more immigrant workers and integrate those already here into the labor market. “These are occupations — personal care aides and home health aides — that we know immigrants are just a critical piece of,” Casale added. “Without that population filling these positions, many, many people in the state are going to suffer.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 02/13/2018 - 02:21 pm.

    Any chance our public High

    Schools look at what jobs need being filled and what type of education/training is required, then help prepare students for that work after graduation? Why would we need immigrants to fill jobs? Are we saying that Minnesota workers can’t fill these jobs or won’t fill those jobs? Are we saying you need special training or education to fill these jobs?
    Makes no sense that we need immigrants to fill jobs. Why can’t Minnesotans fill these jobs?

    • Submitted by steve carlson on 02/13/2018 - 04:44 pm.

      Not enough Minnesotans

      There simply aren’t enough Minnesotans in the workforce to fill the open jobs.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 02/13/2018 - 05:00 pm.

      Demographics are destiny.

      That means low birth rates among established MN residents is not sufficient to supply enough workers for an expanding economy.

      I believe our country is in another demographic predicament, that of 10-12,000 retirees per day with all the experience and skill sets currently in use, soon to need replacement with similarly skilled workers / professionals and families who produce them.

      It is not a new problem. We have seen from China’s 1-child policy being revoked as China’s leaders determine the shortage of available workers in their aging society. In Japan’s homogeneous population, there are simply not enough immigrants or new sources of workers to avoid their economic “stall.”

      Exceptional growth comes from new hard working young labor pools, those eager to form households and willing to work harder than older workers, as most any economist would attest.
      We oldsters do not buy as much nor consume at a level sufficient for growth in a consumer fueled economy.

      America needs immigrants (or triple birth rates). As we age here in Minnesota, we need to plan for those years and decades when we can no longer be productive. This is not a switch that can be turned on or off, but a developmental process of education, preparation and forward thinking for workers at the end and at the beginning of their productive years.

      All that is on view right now, despite the xenophobia, we need immigrants who will be working while we collect social security.

      The GOP has a different plan, eh Joe? “Get em out!”

      • Submitted by joe smith on 02/14/2018 - 11:46 am.

        Richard, the plan is legal immigration.

        Again, pretty simple. If you are able to work and can find a job to support yourself, welcome. If you sneak across the border or are not employable, not welcomed. If you are a seasonal worker, get a temporary work visa. It is a merit based immigration policy. I would still like our public schools to bring back the trades (yes, folks in the real world use their hands and get dirty).
        So yes, that is the alternative to the liberals “open borders”.

  2. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/13/2018 - 11:40 pm.


    We need to realize that continued population growth means more population which means more man-made climate change. Growth so far has involved many more lower paying jobs. What if we kept the same number of jobs but each worker was paid more? With around 25% of our schoolchildren getting reduced price or free lunches, is it really a good idea to increase our birthrate or bring in more low wage citizens to join the already large segment of our population that needs “affordable” housing and “affordable” daycare and “affordable” health insurance? And we probably need less people collecting social security (means testing) or those that receive it are going to have to take a cut before the whole program collapses.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 02/14/2018 - 10:46 am.

      Austerity in the richest nation ever conceived- irony?

      The USA and indeed the world has just 2 problems:

      The increasing wealth in the world is 1) poorly distributed, and 2) poorly allocated.

      Public needs are subordinate to individual achievement in the “conservative” (R) worldview.

      We are darn lucky just to have the framework of a democratic society, yet the wealthiest among us have determined the government to be the enemy because it requires taxes.

      This cannot end well for the common good, as our reactionary leaders in government have no intention of addressing common problems with them same enthusiasm as they serve the wealthiest individuals (who got them elected)..

      Our divisions spawn more than a healthy competition, they spawn jealousy, resentment and cruelty. Social Darwinism!

      Religion can’t be expected to annul selfishness and raw greed. Appeals to logic and carefully analyzed scientific bases for addressing public problems don’t work as well as propaganda and control of our information. The monied interests have won. They are busy taking what they can for themselves.

      It seems, like old folks who drive, we can see what’s coming at us, but we just can’t react accordingly. Most of us are powerless to change the nature of our economy or our governance.

Leave a Reply