Forum tackles the contribution of Minnesotan immigrants

Visitors listen to Wilder Research scientist Allison Liuzzi speak on foreign-born residents of Minnesota at the Think Again Brooklyns’ Sept. 15 panel discussion on immigration. (Sun Post staff photo by Christiaan Tarbox)
Visitors listen to Wilder Research scientist Allison Liuzzi speak on foreign-born residents of Minnesota at the Think Again Brooklyns’ Sept. 15 panel discussion on immigration. (Sun Post staff photo by Christiaan Tarbox)

The Think Again Brooklyns organization hosted a special forum on the contribution of foreign-born individuals living in Minnesota, as well as their wider economic impact.

In their latest monthly installment, the Think Agains’ panel – hosted Sept. 15 at Brooklyn Park City Hall – focused on the state of immigrants living in the state of Minnesota, how the percentage living in the state differs from the percentage living in the entire nation and the economic and cultural capital they provide the rest of the country.

The first speaker was Allison Liuzzi, a research scientist with Wilder Research’s Minnesota Compass project, which Liuzzi referred to as a “one-stop shop” for those looking for data on social issues.

“If we look over the last couple of decades in Minnesota, our foreign-born population’s actually growing faster here in the state than it is nationally,” said Liuzzi. “Since 1990, the Minnesota foreign-born population has tripled – it’s grown really quickly. Whereas in the U.S., the foreign-born population doubled.”

According to Liuzzi, 7 percent of Minnesota’s residents are foreign-born, while the immigrant population of the entire U.S. sits at 13 percent. However, these numbers are relatively low compared to more than 100 years ago.

“What we know looking back to census records (from) the late 1800s is that Minnesota had a really high percentage of foreign-born in its population,” said Liuzzi. “As high as about one-quarter of Minnesota residents were foreign-born. Over time, that’s dipped for different reasons. Some of it legislative, some of it having to do with where our foreign-born populations are coming from.”

Back then, says Liuzzi, the majority of Minnesota’s immigrant population hailed from Europe. Today, the biggest share of foreign-born people in the state are from Asia. Asian immigrants rank at 37 percent of the state’s total foreign-born population; 28 percent are from Latin America; 20 percent come from Africa; 12 percent hail from Europe; and three percent are from Canada and Australia.

“Minnesota’s foreign-born population is different from the U.S. as a whole,” said Liuzzi. “When we look at the shares from our overall foreign-born population that are coming from these different regions, we see some places where there are large differences between the U.S. and Minnesota.”

“For example, the proportion of our foreign-born population from Latin America is 28 percent,” Liuzzi continued. “In the U.S., it’s over half. That’s a big difference when we look locally versus nationally.”

Liuzzi said that Minnesota has been desirable to foreign-born residents for multiple reasons.

“We have economic opportunity,” she said. “Minnesota’s a great place for jobs. We were relatively resilient during the Great Recession. Seventy-six percent of native-born residents in Minnesota are working, (while) 70 percent of foreign-born residents are working.”

Also, Liuzzi noted that the highest proportionate immigrant populations aren’t in Minneapolis and St. Paul. That honor actually belongs to Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.

“In Brooklyn Center, one in four residents are foreign-born,” said Liuzzi. “In Brooklyn Park, one in five residents are foreign-born.”

‘Immigrant capital’
The second speaker of the evening was Bruce Corrie, a professor of economics at Concordia University, as well as the author of a recent study on the economic potential of African immigrants living in Minnesota. Corrie’s work centers on how immigrants play a vital role in contributing to the socioeconomic fabric of the state.

“It is very clear that a lot of immigrants are coming, just like people of the past, either to escape tyranny, to search for a better life and to help create a new America,” said Corrie.

Corrie said that two major factors impede the success of many immigrants: cultural and economic anxiety. The former focuses on native-born Americans’ fears that an influx of immigrants would dilute American culture and the dominance of the English language.

“Will we lose English as the dominant language?” asked Corrie. “We’ve got to know that all over the world, the biggest threat to world languages is English. People are so afraid that English is going to take away their traditional language and culture. When you look at this country, there’s a difference of about $12,000 in pay between someone who speaks English and someone who doesn’t speak English very well.”

Economic anxiety, on the other hand, focuses on the fear of native-born Americans losing their jobs to immigrants. Corrie argued that immigrants joining the American workforce helped the economy rather than hinder it.

“After looking at all the research, I found the best study that was comprehensive that was funded by the U.S. government,” said Corrie. “It showed that after looking at immigrants over time, the net benefit of immigrants is positive. It’s a very common sense kind of conclusion. Immigrants have a positive benefit over the rest of society.”

Corrie said that the media’s perceived depiction of immigrants as criminals and welfare cheats belied the actual positive contribution made by foreign-born residents.

“The minority and immigrant population actually contribute a lot to this state,” said Corrie. “In our economy, immigrants provide that electrical charge to our economy. They help jump-start the economy as they come in. They are playing various roles … as taxpayers, as consumers, as future workers, as current workers, as entrepreneurs, global networks and cultural assets.”

Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected] or follow the Sun Post on Twitter @ecmsunpost.