Briefing Papers Number 23, October 2013

Number 23,  October 2013 briefing paper iStock A Tale of Two Cities (and a Town): Immigrants in the Rust Belt by Andrew Wainer Key Points • Immigration is slowing—and in some cases reversing—decades of population decline in American Rust Belt communities, from Baltimore to Detroit to rural Iowa. • Immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born residents to be entrepreneurs. While they are 13 percent of the national population and 16 percent of the labor force, they are 18 percent of small business owners. Immigrants in Rust Belt cities are more likely to be entrepreneurs than those in other parts of the United States. • Immigrants contribute disproportionately to the U.S. economic output— particularly to the Rust Belt’s economic production. • To maximize their economic contributions to Rust Belt cities, immigrants who are unauthorized need legalization and a path to citizenship. Andrew Wainer is the senior immigration policy analyst for Bread for the World Institute. Bread for the World Institute provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. The Institute educates opinion leaders, policy makers and the public about hunger in the United States and abroad. Abstract In the midst of the debate over the largest potential immigration reform legislation in 50 years, some American communities struggling with decades of population loss and economic decline are being revitalized by newcomers. The role of immigrants in high-skilled fields is relatively well-known, but less acknowledged are the contributions that “blue collar” immigrants make to revitalizing depressed communities and economies, both as manual laborers and small business entrepreneurs. In Rust Belt communities such as Baltimore, Detroit, and southeastern Iowa, immigration has slowed—and in some cases reversed—decades of population loss. It is revitalizing neighborhoods and commercial corridors. Immigrants—including lower-skilled immigrants—help generate jobs and economic growth for U.S.-born workers. Immigrants are a disproportionate number of our country’s entrepreneurs. This is particularly true in Rust Belt cities, where immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs than they are in more traditional immigrant gateways. But to make their full potential economic impact in the Rust Belt, unauthorized immigrants need a path to citizenship.