Who are Minnesota’s immigrants?

“Immigrants and their children represent an important component of the state’s current and future workforce, and are vital contributors to our state’s educational, cultural, and civic life,” affirms the new Minnesota Compass research project on immigration in Minnesota. The continuing research collects information from multiple sources and offers hard data to dispel myths and preconceptions about immigrants.

How many immigrants are there?

In 1980, about three percent of our residents were foreign born, compared with seven percent in 2008. About 346,000 residents are foreign born, including many refugees or asylees who fled their home countries. An additional 148,000 children living in Minnesota are U.S. born but have one or more foreign born parents.

That sounds like a huge growth in immigrants, but the report offers plenty of context. As recently as 1950, Minnesota’s immigrant population was a larger percentage of the total population – eight percent. Go back further in time, and the percentage is even larger. The Advocates for Human Rights Energy of a Nation curriculum on immigrants notes:

While the foreign-born population in the United States was only 15% in the 1890s, 40% of Minnesota’s population was foreign born. This first major wave of immigration to Minnesota peaked around 1910, when more than 60% of the immigrants came from Sweden, Norway, and Germany. Energy of a Nation, Handout 2.6

Where do they come from?

By country of origin, the 15 largest groups of foreign born residents in Minnesota are (in descending order): Mexico, Laos (including Hmong), India, Somalia, Vietnam, Canada, Ethiopia, Korea, Liberia, China, Thailand (including Hmong), Germany, former USSR/Russia, Kenya, and the Philippines.

The Compass site provides detailed statistical analysis of Ethiopian, Hmong, Indian, Liberian, Mexican, Somali, Vietnamese immigrant groups in Minnesota, including numbers, counties of residence, language, poverty, workforce participation and more.

Learning – and learning English

For information on the percentage of the population speaking English, Compass refers us to the American Community Survey, a research arm of the U.S. census. The American Community Survey reports that only four percent of Minnesota’s population speaks English “less than very well,” though an additional 5.6 percent report speaking a language other than English at home.

Working and Minnesota’s economy

Like nationally-known immigration expert Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Compass reports many highly-educated immigrant workers, as well as large numbers of less-educated workers:

In general, immigrant workers are concentrated at the high skill and low skill ends of the workforce spectrum. Roughly 31 percent of foreign born residents hold a 4-year college degree or higher (similar to 32 percent of the native born population). Twenty-eight percent of Minnesota’s foreign born adults lack a high school degree or GED, compared to seven percent of the state’s native born adults. Many of these adults work in meat packing, poultry processing, and other large-scale agricultural operations.

William Blazar, senior vice president of public affairs and business development at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, agrees with Suárez-Orozco on the importance of immigration reform and the need for immigrant workers:

Immigrants are an increasing source of workers as Minnesota, like the rest of the nation, deals with an aging workforce. A large portion of workers will retire in the next 15 years, and birth rates are insufficient to replace them. At the same time, Minnesota’s foreign born population has been increasing appreciably since 1970. Statewide, immigrants leverage 24,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in personal income.

Minnesota employers have long benefited from this worker pool. Immigrants frequently have taken jobs that native born workers deem unacceptable, and it has proven an important economic multiplier. Filling these lower skill and/or physically demanding jobs is key to preserving other higher skilled jobs. The business case, by William Blazar

As editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I see many reactions to articles about immigration. I know that there is no topic as likely to elicit comments and responses full of venom and misinformation. Compass’s new project is a useful antidote to the misinformation circulating about immigrants and immigration.

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