My paternal grandfather worked on a German merchant ship as a very young man. Disdainful of the Kaiser’s growing militarism, he went on shore leave in New York City and never looked back. He supported himself as he attended Cooper Union, eventually earning a Master’s Degree in mechanical engineering. He opened a machine shop in Ridgewood, Queens, married, settled in Elmhurst, and raised my dad and his brothers.
The machine shop managed to remain open through the Depression, aided by his sons’ working there after school and on weekends. The dozen or so other workers managed to bring paychecks home throughout the 1930’s. During World War II, the shop prospered as my grandfather subcontracted with major manufacturers for machine parts.
The United States gained jobs through the Depression and added productivity. Bavaria lost one disaffected but talented young man. This is a typical immigrant story.
New York’s leading economic think tank, the Fiscal Policy Institute, has released a report today that confirms productivity as typical of immigrants to this day. Working for a Better Life: A Profile of Immigrants in the New York State Economy points out that immigrants’ economic activity accounts for more than 22 percent of the money pumped into the state’s economy. That would be $229 billion into the New York State economy in 2006 alone.
The report also points out that
- The majority of immigrants living in New York State speak English, and their English gets significantly better over time.
- Immigrants are entrepreneurs. The number of Hispanic- and Asian-owned businesses is growing rapidly, one rough indication of immigrant entrepreneurship.
- About two thirds of immigrants in the upstate and downstate suburbs own their own homes.
- Fully 34 percent of New York’s children are growing up in families with at least one foreign-born adult—8 percent in upstate New York, 31 percent in the downstate suburbs, and 57 percent in New York City.
The point? For starters,
Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of The New York Immigration Coalition, said the findings underscore the argument for helping illegal immigrants gain legal status.
“For us to maximize immigrant contributions to the economy, we must stop treating immigrants like criminals and terrorists,” she said. “Instead, we need to change our immigration laws so that undocumented immigrants can come out of the shadows of the underground economy and future immigrant workers can immigrate legally to fill jobs that our economy requires.”
Not doing so costs New York.
And while it’s long been known that immigrants can help revitalize urban neighborhoods, the lack of immigration appears to play a role in stagnation.
Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester, which the report notes are plagued by under-population and a brain drain, may be stalling not so much from outright population loss as from a lack of immigrants moving in.
“If you take immigration out of the picture, what we see is stagnation,” said [Fiscal Policy Institute Senior Fellow and principal author] Dyssegaard Kallick.