Iowa State University
INDEX A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

09-18-08

Contacts:

David Swenson, Economics, (515) 294-7458, dswenson@iastate.edu

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986, ferlazzo@iastate.edu

Iowa State economists' report puts face on state's immigrant population

AMES, Iowa -- Two major federal immigration raids on Iowa meat-packing plants within the last two years -- one at the Swift plant in Marshalltown and the other at Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville -- have made Iowa appear like a front in the government's war against illegal immigration. But a new Iowa State University report on Iowa's foreign-born population puts a face on the state's immigrants, and it's considerably different than those raids might suggest.

Economists Dave Swenson and Liesl Eathington of ISU's Regional Capacity Analysis Program (ReCAP) examined a representative sample of more than 16,000 Iowans from the 2006 U.S. Census to make projections on Iowa's foreign and native-born populations. They estimate that there were more than 79,000 foreign-born persons in Iowa in 2006, representing nearly 5 percent of the state's 3 million people.

Of the sample, just under half (47 percent) were born in Latin American countries, followed by 31 percent from Asia, 11 percent from Europe and 7 percent from Africa.

And while 35.3 percent hadn't completed high school -- more than four times higher than the state's native population -- 28.8 percent also had bachelor's or advanced degrees, or about 4 percent higher than native Iowans.

"When we use the word 'immigrant' and 'alien' and all of those kinds of things, many people think they have an idea of who these people are in Iowa. And I would offer that they don't have a very good idea at all," said Swenson, the lead author of the report, which was prepared for a presentation he's making at a statewide National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) conference in Des Moines on Friday, Sept. 19.

"It's not just people coming to take production jobs at meat-packing plants or work in construction," he said. "We have a very diverse demand for foreign-born talent here in the state of Iowa."

Manufacturing just second among immigrant jobs

While Iowa's immigrant population is often associated with manufacturing, that job was actually second among jobs being held by foreign-born workers at 31.4 percent. Finance and professional services was the top choice at 34.3 percent. Entertainment and hospitality was the next highest total at 14.0 percent.

Immigrants who were employed at the time of the survey made an average of $32,381 annually, as compared to $33,941 for the native population. Foreign-born workers made an average of $47,678 in finance and professional service -- or 33 percent more than Iowa natives -- but made 30 percent less in manufacturing with an average salary of just $28,369. Native Iowans in the survey made $40,631 in manufacturing jobs.

The ISU economists used those income numbers to project that foreign-born workers accounted for $5.47 billion of the state's $121.35 billion Gross Domestic Product in 2006 -- 4.5 percent of the state total.

"Iowa's foreign-born participants in the economy are important and a substantial part of it," Swenson said. "Now I don't distinguish between those who are here on a certain authorized status vs. those who are unauthorized. That's not the point of this. I'm just simply looking at their participation. And we found their value to the economy -- both in terms of labor and the kinds of jobs that they do -- is considerable in terms of their contribution to the state's GDP."

Swenson says that among unauthorized workers, Iowa is vulnerable to more federal immigration raids -- particularly in the meat-packing industry. And any future deportations of illegal immigrants could do economic harm to the state beyond meat-packing.

"They (immigration deportations) have the potential to be very disruptive to Iowa productivity in general," he said. "If that (meat-packing) industry is impacted, it has multiplied consequences all the way through the animal-feeding sectors and even crop-producing sectors. So we have much more of a linkage to this issue of what do we do about our unauthorized then many other places do. And I think Iowans don't understand just how important that linkage is."

He reports that there is no evidence that native Iowans would be interested in filling meat-packing jobs vacated by deportations. That's already forcing impacted companies to go to some extreme lengths -- and far off places -- to fill those jobs and keep production moving.

Foreign-born workforce filling high-end jobs

But the new ReCAP report shows that meat-packing jobs represent just a fraction of those filled by foreign-born workforce. They also perform a multitude of high-end jobs created by the state's well-documented "brain drain."

"We have a lot of trouble keeping and attracting some of the critical skilled professionals this state needs -- in education, in science, in engineering and in medicine," he said. "And I think an interesting study is going to be how much of that critical gap has been plugged by our ability to be able to attract foreign-born, skilled professionals -- just in the last 15 years."

The complete report is available online at http://www.econ.iastate.edu/research/webpapers/paper_12984.pdf.

-30-

Swenson

Dave Swenson

Quick look

Economists Dave Swenson and Liesl Eathington of ISU's Regional Capacity Analysis Program examined a representative sample of more than 16,000 Iowans from the 2006 U.S. Census to make projections on Iowa's foreign and native-born populations. They found that the state's immigrant population is much different than what many people believe.

Quote

"When we use the word 'immigrant' and 'alien' and all of those kinds of things, many people think they have an idea of who these people are in Iowa. And I would offer that they don't have a very good idea at all."

Dave Swenson