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Study: Immigrants Benefit NYC Economy, Quality of Life

  • Adam Phillips

New York has long been a magnet for immigrants looking for a better life. A new independent research study also shows that immigrants help the city thrive as well.

Immigrants like those at a recent New York rally are an increasingly potent economic force. According to the Mayor’s office, immigrants make up more than 40 percent of the city’s population.

Taken together, those three million people would constitute the third largest city in America, says immigration commissioner Nisha Agarwal.

“So we are an immigrant-rich city, and immigrants are in our schools. They are driving our economy at all levels and in all professions. And we need to support that because it not only benefits the families involved, but it benefits the city as a whole,” said Agarwal.

Helping neighborhoods

An independent research report sponsored by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, - or AS/COA - contradicts a common perception that links immigrants with poverty and crime.

The study examined rising immigration statistics and neighborhood police reports between 1990 and 2010. New York City’s economy and quality of life improved greatly during that period - especially in declining neighborhoods - and the report"s author, Jacob Vigdor, found a link.

“The immigrants go to these neighborhoods because they are the only places they can afford, and they stabilize those neighborhoods. And they reduce vacancy rates. They reduce the state of disrepair, and these are the things that lead to crime dropping,” said Vigdor.

Immigrants who make the leap of faith to come to America are often less likely to commit crimes and more likely to work hard, said Harvard University social policy professor Robert Sampson. “So why would you come to this country? Well, you want to work. You want to get ahead. You want to raise your family, you want to build, essentially, a community.”

Immigrant entrepreneurship

Immigrant entrepreneurship also helps drive the city’s growth. And immigrants often perform the necessary jobs native-born Americans don’t want, said ASCOA policy manager Kate Brick.

"Like in the agricultural sector, the manufacturing sector [and] the service industry. It runs the gamut. And at the same time, immigrants coming to the US are extremely diverse," said Brick. "In addition to people who are working in lower paying jobs, you have some of the best minds in the world that are here working in the tech industry, and in engineering, in science, in the medical field.”

Even undocumented immigrants, who work as street vendors and nannies, help pay their way, said Jacob Vigdor, the author of Immigration and New York City.

“You need to buy things, and, when you buy things, you pay sales taxes. You need to live someplace. Whether you own a place or rent a place, there are property taxes on that dwelling, and property taxes and sales taxes are major sources of revenue for any kind of municipal government,” said Vigdor.

The Americas Society/Council of the Americas is using its study on immigrants and the New York economy to help other U.S. cities to welcome immigrants in ways that will benefit foreign-born and “native-born” alike.

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