North Carolina’s immigrant population has become a crucial contributor to the state’s economic vitality, according to a new report from the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.
The quickening and changing reality of immigration, evident across the United States and likely to only accelerate in the upcoming decades, is clear in North Carolina where the immigrant population more than quintupled from 1990 to 2013. Charlotte, Greensboro/Winston-Salem, and Raleigh-Durham have some of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the nation.
“There are enormous opportunities for the state to benefit from immigrants coming to North Carolina from around the world,” said Patrick McHugh, economic analyst with the BTC and author of the report. “Immigrants contribute to the economic well-being of North Carolina in a host of ways, from bringing much-needed skills, to operating Main Street businesses, to revitalizing struggling neighborhoods, to linking our state to an increasingly global marketplace.”
Immigrants have generated a larger share of the state’s economic activity than their share of the population over the past two decades, the report said. On average, counties with larger immigrant populations have lower unemployment rates and levels of poverty, as well as higher wages than counties with few immigrants. Immigrants are becoming increasingly integral to economies of urban areas’ as well as to the survival of rural communities. Immigration has limited or reversed population declines in many rural parts of the state.
Immigrants are also becoming more broadly integrated into the North Carolina labor force, particularly in agriculture, construction, and retail trade, as well as technical services, manufacturing, education, banking, and health care. Immigrants make up more than 20 percent of Main Street business owners. In short, immigrants help to make modern life possible in North Carolina by getting the work of Main Street done, the report said.
“In many cases, immigrants are clearly attracted to places that are doing better economically,” McHugh said. “However, there is statistical evidence that the arrival of immigrants does more to cause employment growth than the other way around. It turns out that immigrants tend to arrive ahead of job growth, a sign that immigrants help to improve the economic health of communities.”
Unfortunately, immigrant entrepreneurs face many challenges in building business in North Carolina, including lack of access to start-up and business capital and formal business training, and engaging broader clientele and supply chains outside of the immigrant community. Steps such as offering official identification, in-state tuition, and targeted financing and support for immigrant entrepreneurs could help the integration process, the report said. North Carolina communities can also strive to offer bi-lingual public services, access to English language training, and assistance with certification and credentialing.
With federal immigration reform stalled, states need to fill the void, the report said. Even if policy starts to move in Washington, there is important work to do here in North Carolina.
“The integration of North Carolina’s immigrant population is crucial to the state’s future,” McHugh said. “Marginalizing immigrants will only make the state less competitive and undermine the pursuit of an economy that works for all North Carolinians.”
Read the full report at this link: http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=btc-report-smart-choices-era-migration.