As the lead editorial in The Nation noted last week, the recent maelstrom surrounding Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to issue driver licenses to undocumented immigrants revealed the fear-mongering and racism that too often characterizes the so-called “immigration debate.” It illustrated once again the desperate need to overcome the demagoguing and engage in an informed conversation – all the more challenging as people feel increasing economic anxiety and dislocation.
That’s why a report released recently by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) – Working for a Better Life: A Profile of Immigrants in the New York Economy – is such a critical contribution at this moment. FPI does rigorous analysis to promote public policies that create a strong economy in which prosperity is broadly shared by all New Yorkers. This report reveals that immigrants – making up 21 percent of the state’s residents – added $229 billion to the New York State economy in 2006, representing 22.4 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product.
“These figures should wipe away any impression that immigrants are holding the New York economy back,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, senior fellow of the Fiscal Policy Institute and principal author of the report. “In fact, immigrants are a central component of New York’s economic growth.” And Kallick told me, “The debate around immigration has gotten so overheated that it’s become difficult to distinguish myth and hyperbole from simple reality….”
According to the report, New York City immigrants make up 37 percent of the population and 46 percent of the labor force. They are more likely than U.S.-born residents to live in families in the middle-income brackets. Immigrants represent 25 percent of CEOs who live in New York City, half of accountants, one-third of office clerks, one-third of receptionists, and one-third of building cleaners. In sector after sector, immigrants are found in the top, middle, and bottom rungs of the economic ladder.
In the downstate suburbs, 18 percent of all residents are foreign-born, with immigrants making up 23 percent of the labor force. More immigrants work as registered nurses than in any other occupation. 41 percent of physicians and surgeons in the downstate suburbs are foreign-born, as are 28 percent of college and university professors, 22 percent of accountants and auditors, and 19 percent of financial managers.