Today, almost 930,000 foreign-born people live in Washington, giving the state the 10th-largest immigrant population in the country. Being such a big part of the population, residents who were born abroad have a big impact on the state economy.
A newly released report called “The Contributions of New Americans in Washington” uses American Community Survey data to suss out the hows and whys of that impact.
The report is written by Partnership for a New American Economy, a group advocating for immigration reform. The group’s co-chairs are Jim McNerney, retired chairman of the aerospace company Boeing, and Julian Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
More than 12 percent of Washington residents wereborn abroad. In Clark County, a little more than 11 percent of the population are foreign-born, according to 2014 ACS data.
While most of the U.S.-born population has a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree, immigrants tend to gravitate toward opposite ends of the education spectrum, the report said. They’re three times as likely to have less than a high school diploma, but they’re also more likely to have an advanced degree. Among immigrants in Clark County who became U.S. citizens, nearly 12 percent have an advanced degree compared with about 9 percent of the native population.
Did You Know?
• Lutheran Community Services Northwest assists immigrants in a variety of ways, from welcoming them to their new home to helping them become American citizens. To learn more, call Lutheran Community Services Northwest at 360-694-5624.
As a result, immigrants are overrepresented in labor-intensive and highly-skilled positions, the report said. Immigrants in Washington make up 55.1 percent of workers in crop production where farm laborers pick fruits and vegetables, about one-third of dishwashers and cooks, and 42 percent of maids and housekeeping cleaners.
Immigrants also represented 24 percent of STEM (science, engineering, technology and mathematics) workers in the state in 2014 despite representing 13.2 percent of the population as a whole; that includes 45.1 percent of software developers for applications and systems software. More than one in six physicians in Washington graduated from a foreign medical school, an indicator that they were born elsewhere, the report said.
“Given that the act of picking up and moving to another country is inherently brave and risky, it should be little surprise that immigrants have repeatedly been found to be more entrepreneurial than the U.S. population as whole,” the report said. Foreign-born workers account for 17.9 percent entrepreneurs in the state. John W. Nordstrom, an immigrant from Sweden, started a shoe store that would expand to the Seattle-headquartered Fortune 500 company that bore his name.
“Six of the 10 Fortune 500 firms based in Washington had at least one founder who was an immigrant or the child of an immigrant,” the report said. Those companies generate $249.9 billion in annual revenue and employ 425,359 people.
The median income among foreign-born households in Clark County is $49,437, compared to $60,992 for native citizens. Naturalized citizens have higher incomes — the median is $56,198 — and they’re more likely to be homeowners that native citizens. Immigrants who don’t have citizenship have the lowest median household incomes at $39,727. In Clark County, those without citizenship are also more likely than natives or naturalized citizens to be renters, live below the poverty line, use food stamps (or SNAP benefits) and receive public assistance income.
In 2014, immigrants in Washington earned $30.9 billion; $2.4 billion went to state and local taxes, $5.7 to federal taxes, $3 billion to Social Security and $815.5 million to Medicare, the report said.