A breakdown of the Minnesota population by age shows immigrants make up a higher percentage of people of working age (18-64) than the native-born population. Credit: Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Immigrants contribute significantly to the state’s economy, according to a recent report from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and their skills and education levels complement the native-born workforce in unique ways. 

Data from the report shows that immigrants make up a major portion of the workforce in some of the most in-demand industries in the state such as agriculture, healthcare, and food manufacturing.

The Chamber of Commerce has issued similar reports throughout the last decade. The latest report, which comes during a time of economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, highlights immigrant contributions as consumers, taxpayers, employees, and entrepreneurs. Researchers presented their findings during a webinar March 23. 

We’ve gone through the 32-page report and highlighted some key points for our readers. Here are six things to take away from the Chamber of Commerce’s report:

Demographic highlights

More than 472,000 immigrants live in Minnesota. That makes up 8.5 percent of the state’s population, meaning one in 12 Minnesotans is foreign-born. Since the state’s population is aging, Minnesota will need to see meaningful population growth in the future. Without immigrants, the state’s population would have started to decline in 2001. The top four countries immigrants come from in Minnesota are Mexico, Somalia, India, and Laos.

The immigrant population also has a higher percentage of people of working age (18-64) than the native-born population in Minnesota, with 81 percent of immigrants falling in that age group compared to 60 percent of native-born Minnesotans.

Immigrant entrepreneurship is low but job participation isn’t

Immigrant entrepreneurship in Minnesota lags behind the rest of the nation. This might be because of the state’s historically low unemployment rate. Higher job availability results in less of a need for entrepreneurship or startup initiatives.

Entrepreneurship among immigrants in Minnesota lags compared to the United States overall. Credit: Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Another reason could be because the median age of Minnesota immigrants is six years younger than the national figure. That means immigrants tend to be younger and might not have the knowledge or capital to be entrepreneurs—yet. The report recommends building systems that support immigrants who are currently entrepreneurs, as well as immigrants who might want to pursue that route in the future.

Immigrants contribute taxes even when they can’t access certain benefits

In 2019, immigrant households in the state paid $4.5 billion in taxes: $2 billion in state and local taxes, and $2.5 billion in federal taxes. Despite contributing to tax revenue, undocumented immigrants, for example, cannot access most social welfare programs. That means some immigrants pay more taxes but receive less government benefits compared to their native-born counterparts.

The Chamber of Commerce reports a breakdown of taxes contributed by immigrants in Minnesota. Credit: Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Educational attainment rates for immigrants complements the workforce

Educational attainment among the immigrant population is concentrated on the far ends of the spectrum. This graph shows that immigrants are clustered in the “less than high school degree” and “graduate or professional degree” categories. That complements the native-born population in the state, which tends to fall in the middle.

In terms of educational attainment, immigrants are clustered in the “less than high school degree” and “graduate or professional degree” categories. Credit: Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Immigrant workers support key industries in Minnesota

Without immigrant workers, key industries such as agriculture, healthcare, and food manufacturing, could not be as successful in the state. These industries tend to have a strong immigrant presence in its workforce.

Of the top 10 occupations in demand statewide, three have a strong presence of immigrant workers: Personal care aides, food preparation and service, and nursing aides. Registered nurses were the most in-demand occupation in Minnesota in 2019. Immigrants make up 8 percent of registered nurses and 12 percent of healthcare workers overall. As Minnesota’s population ages, a robust healthcare industry will be essential.

The top ten occupations by foreign-born share of employment. Credit: Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

The longer immigrants live in Minnesota, the more their family’s socioeconomic status improves

Over time, immigrants are upwardly mobile on multiple fronts: Improved poverty and unemployment rates, and greater homeownership rates. While there are costs for immigrants when they first arrive, these costs diminish as immigrants, their kids, and grandkids gain economic success over time. For example, the chamber reports that in a study of Somali-born immigrants, it found large declines in unemployment. In a study of Mexican-born Minnesotans, it found extremely high labor participation rates and high entrepreneurship—nearly 2 percentage points higher than the rest of the foreign-born population in the state.

Immigrants tend to improve their economic status over time. Credit: Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.