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Study: Immigrants make up growing part of workforce, tax base of ND, Minnesota

FARGO—A new analysis is shedding some light on the growing economic impact of immigrants who live and work in North Dakota and Minnesota as questions of immigration policy, especially for refugees, continue to split opinions locally and nationally.

Newly compiled data released Tuesday, Feb. 21, morning by national organization New American Economy crunched the number of foreign-born residents in each of the country's 435 congressional districts and added up their purchasing power, paid taxes and more.

In North Dakota, more than 27,000 immigrants paid $124.6 million in taxes in 2014, while Minnesota's 437,000 immigrants paid $3.3 billion in taxes.

"The data puts the economic power of America's immigrants in stark relief," said Chairman John Feinblatt in a written statement. "Across the map, and in every industry, immigrants strengthen the economies of big cities and small towns alike."

While Rachel Hoffman said it's important to humanize the immigrants and refugees who live and work here, the chairwoman of Fargo's Human Relations Commission said statistics like these can also help locals understand just how important foreign-born people have become.

"Right now, we're hearing that refugees are a burden on the community cost-wise," she said. "We're not hearing about the benefits, and I think seeing these numbers and the contributions they're making is important."

Economic power

While immigrants make up just 3.7 percent of North Dakota's population, they had a 2014 spending power of $435 million. About 67 percent of the state's foreign-born residents are working age between 25 and 64, a figure that's well above the roughly 50 percent of native-born residents in that demographic.

They're also more likely to hold a graduate degree—9.1 percent of North Dakota's immigrants have one, compared to 6.6 percent of native-born residents.

Minnesota, meanwhile, saw an increase of almost 60,000 immigrant residents between 2010 and 2014 to a total of 437,544, making up 8 percent of the state's population. They had a 2014 spending power of $8.9 billion and paid $3.3 billion in taxes, and immigrant-owned firms in the state employed roughly 53,000 workers.

Nearly 72 percent of Minnesota's foreign-born residents are working age, between 25 and 64, compared to about 52 percent of native-born residents.

In Minnesota's rural 7th Congressional District, which includes Clay County and nearly all of the western side of the state, 18,493 immigrants made up 2.8 percent of the overall population and paid about $105.9 million in taxes.

Nationally, immigrants earned about $1.3 trillion in 2014 and paid more than $328 billion in taxes.

New American Economy's research comes at a time when immigration, especially for refugees from certain countries, remains a major focus both locally and nationally. President Donald Trump issued an executive order late last month to suspend the admission of Syrian and other refugees, though that ban has been stalled by court decisions.

Locally, City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn has raised questions for months about the costs of Fargo's resettled refugees and the role of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. Piepkorn didn't return several requests for comment Monday, Feb. 20.

While the Fargo Human Relations Commission works to fully study the costs of refugees in the community, something Hoffman said could be detailed in a report to city leaders this spring, she said it's also important to be aware of the positive impacts of the city's immigrant population. That includes increased diversity, cultural contributions and the arrival of working-age people who can help businesses deal with a local workforce shortage, she said.

"I think we need to remain a welcoming community to be able to grow," she said.

In a news release from the Human Relations Commission earlier this month, Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp., said the inability to fill jobs has contributed to a local "slowdown" that is partially answered by the arrival of new refugees.

"Cutting back on the refugee resettlement program will not benefit the Fargo-Moorhead economy," Gartin said in a written statement. "It will do the opposite."

Big impact

According to a new analysis from New American Economy, foreign-born residents have a growing impact on local economies across the U.S. Here are some key findings of the new data that was publicly released Tuesday, Feb. 21:

Area Immigrant residents (2014) Share of population Immigrant taxes paid

Minnesota 437,544 8.0 percent $3.3 billion

North Dakota 27,044 3.7 percent $124.6 million

Nation 42.2 million 13.2 percent $328.2 billion

*Source: New American Economy / www.newamericaneconomy.org

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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