Foreigners are taking over Minnesota: stealing jobs, slow to learn English and hostile to our way of life.
Complaints aired last night on Lou Dobbs’ latest program on immigration?
No, these attitudes have been around a lot longer. They were expressed a century ago when about 550,000 “foreigners” — more than a quarter of the state’s total population in 1910, mostly from Germany, Norway and Sweden — settled in Minnesota, much to the consternation of the English-speaking residents.
“Go back and get newspapers from 100 years ago and look at the headlines,” says Minnesota State Demographer Tom Gillaspy. “You could take those same headlines and simply change the names of the countries of origin [for foreign born residents] and put them in today’s papers. Not everybody is happy about people coming in, especially from some other country.”
Still, Gillaspy and others are warning that even though people have been coming to the United States and settling in Minnesota for years, the state today is facing special challenges. Failing to provide adequate education and training to foreign-born workers and their children, they argue, imperils Minnesota’s future prosperity. Allowed to fester, the much discussed achievement gap in the state’s schools has the potential to injure business climate more severely than higher taxes.
“The expectation is that because we are going to have more people retiring over time, the growth in our workforce and in our economy is going to rely on migration from other states and immigration from other countries,” Gillaspy said. “Already we are experiencing some of that, but the situation is going to accelerate in the future. Minnesota has historically been a prosperous place because of our worker productivity, which is linked back to education and training — we are a state with a workforce built on quality more than quantity.”
Gillaspy spoke to MinnPost just before a presentation he gave last month to the first-ever meeting of the Ethnic Heritage and New American Working Group, a bipartisan organization established last year by the Legislature to “foster an understanding and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity in Minnesota, to identify underutilized resources within the immigrant community, and to facilitate the full participation of immigrants in social, cultural and political life in this state.”
Minnesota’s foreign-born population has been increasing since 1970
Click on chart to enlarge
Source: Census 2006 ACS
Chaired by Sen. Patricia Torres-Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R- Mountain Lake, the 10-person working group includes two other legislators and representatives from business (the Chamber of Commerce, Hormel Foods) and the legal community (the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Centro Legal).
Employment key factor
In his presentation to the group, Gillaspy revealed that Minnesota is mostly in the middle range among states, ranking 20th in immigration (verses 21st in total population and 19th in total population growth from 2000-07) and 25th in the percentage of its population that is foreign born. Compared to most states, we have a smaller proportion of immigrants coming from Central America and South America (although we receive more immigrants from Mexico than any other country) and a higher ratio from Asia (including the Hmong from Laos and Thailand) and Africa (where the Somalia and Liberian immigrants once lived).
Employment is a dominant factor in the arrival of foreign born residents: They are 8.1 percent of the Minnesota workforce versus 6.6 percent of the total population, and the growth in enrollment for students in English as a Second Language programs is almost directly related to a similar growth in the local employment of the area.
These foreign-born workers are most highly concentrated among the least and most educated of Minnesota workers, with approximately one in eight holding an advanced college degree and nearly one in four without a high school diploma. They permeate industries in the workforce most prominently in restaurant/food service (an estimated 10 per cent), colleges and universities (5 per cent) and hospitals (4 per cent).
Perhaps most significantly, however, nearly half of Minnesota’s foreign born residents are between the ages of 25 and 44, making them a potentially invaluable source of employees in a state with a rapidly aging citizenry.
State economist Tom Stinson has said that Minnesota needs an infusion of productive workers if the state is to maintain prosperity in the years ahead, an opinion buttressed by the research of Gillaspy. The two of them have traveled the state in recent months, sounding the warning about how this change in demographics affects Minnesota’s economic future.
Minnesota’s foreign-born population concentrated in the 25-44 age range
Source: Census 2006 ACS
Willing to assimilate
Gillaspy said the immigrants are fairly consistent in their willingness and ability to assimilate.
“From all the research that has been done — and of course each group of immigrants is starting from a different position — but when you take everything into consideration, the economic sequencing, the educational ability, and the ability to learn and speak English of the people emigrating to Minnesota over the last couple of decades seems very similar to happened a hundred years ago,” he said. “Most research indicates that things like learning English is proceeding at about same rate as it did 100 years ago.”
What about the criminals, the immigrants who are in this state illegally?
“There are certainly a lot of people talking about illegal or unauthorized immigration,” Gillaspy avers. “It is obviously hard to develop statistics for it, even looking at the documents. For Minnesota, the estimates from the Department of Homeland Security and the Pew Hispanic Center run from about 50,000 to 80,000.
“Those estimates assume we are like the rest of the country, and we are not, so they could be a bit high,” he said. “You see, it is not ‘illegal’ they are classifying, it is actually ‘unauthorized.’ And ‘unauthorized’ includes asylees — people asking for asylum who have been granted temporary protected status by the federal government but don’t yet have legally protected status. Minnesota received quite a few asylees from Liberia during the Liberian war, for example.”
Percentage of Minnesota labor force born in another country
Source: PUMS microdata from 1990 and 2000 Census and 2006 ACS
He adds that asylees are a subset of the refugee population, and that Minnesota usually ranks among the top three states in the number of refugee/asylees accepted each year and has “a substantially higher proportion of refugees and asylees among its immigrant population than any other state” — 26 per cent versus the national average of 8 percent.
Gillaspy hastens to add that the bulk of “unauthorized” residents are not asylees but otherwise “illegal” immigrants.
The race factor
Torres-Ray said that when she saw the huge foreign-born numbers for Minnesota in 1910, “it confirmed some of the other things I have read and gave me a lot of hope. We have gone through this before as a state and we have done very well.”
But Torres-Ray notes that today’s immigration patterns also differ from the past. “One of the big differences between today and the immigration a hundred years ago is the racial aspect,” she said. “We have what you could call browner people today — black coming from Africa and brown coming from Central and South America — versus the more homogenous race of the previous immigrants. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference that makes in Minnesota and in the rest of the country.”
To that end, Gillaspy has one piece of pointed advice: Avoid the mistakes made by Europe.
Since 2000, Minnesota’s foreign-born population has increased by about 83,000, mostly in naturalized citizens
Source: Census and 2006 ACS
“The population of Europe is a bit older than ours and their native-born workforce has been declining for awhile,” he said. “They’ve been shoring it up largely with people from North Africa and the Middle East, and the tendency has been for there to be a physical separation among groups of people.”
The result, he said, is that there are places around Paris known as ‘immigrant areas” confined to immigrants. “These people can feel like they are without a country,” Gillaspy said. “That doesn’t work real well. It creates trouble and the people of Europe are now seeing some of that.
“There is nothing new about tension. If your family came to this country a hundred years ago or more, some of the people already here probably objected quite strongly to them being here. But now I think we can all agree that it is probably a good thing that you and your family are a part of this society. If we know anything, we know that keeping people apart doesn’t seem to work.”
Britt Robson, formerly a staff writer and senior editor at City Pages, covers the state Capitol and politics. He can be reached at brobson [at] minnpost [dot] com.