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State needs immigrants to succeed

A new report from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce confirms what our state demographers have been telling us for a long time: Minnesota’s economy needs the immigrant population to succeed.

Here are some of the key findings of the Chamber’s report as outlined in its executive summary:

• Absent immigrants’ arrival, our overall population would have declined beginning in 2001, with Minnesota residents moving to other states.

• Immigrants link Minnesota to the world economy and make valuable and meaningful contributions to our state as employees, entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers.

• Immigrant entrepreneurship in Minnesota lags behind the rest of the nation. In a “homegrown” economy, entrepreneurship is a key source of new businesses. Building systems that support immigrant entrepreneurs is important to our economic success.

• Many of Minnesota’s most important industries have a strong immigrant presence. Without immigrant workers, key industries such as agriculture, health care and food manufacturing could not be as successful in the state.

And that brief summary just scrapes the surface of why being home to a healthy immigrant population affects all Minnesotans — wherever they live in the state and whatever their citizen status. As the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, if one sector of the economy suffers, it has a domino effect. We saw that when some manufacturers had to temporarily shut down at the start of the pandemic and livestock producers ended up having to euthanize animals when they couldn’t be brought to the food-processing plants.

In southern Minnesota many of those food plant employees are immigrant and refugee workers. Without them, many of the groceries that people stocked up on wouldn’t have filled supermarket freezers and shelves during the pandemic. And numerous health care workers are immigrants, acting as front-line workers during this crisis. The immigrant population often works at jobs that employers are desperate to fill; the workers are not taking jobs from others as some anti-immigrant voices claim.

And immigrants spend their money here. Their spending power in Minnesota is over $12.4 billion annually, while households paid $4.5 billion in state taxes in 2019. Those taxes, of course, support Minnesota by funding such areas as education, criminal justice, social services and transportation. Over time, immigrants are upwardly mobile on multiple fronts including household income, employment and homeownership. The Chamber report cites that while there are costs for supporting foreign-born populations when they first arrive, these costs diminish as subsequent generations assimilate and gain economic success.

It’s up to all Minnesotans to recognize that our state’s economic stability and success depend on supporting and encouraging the growth of our immigrant populations. And U.S. and state governments as well as nonprofits need to continue to direct resources to agencies that can help ensure their success.

— Mankato Free Press

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