Immigrants Help Wisconsin Reduce a Loss of Workers
November 10, 2015
More than 40 percent of Wisconsin’s immigrants are from Latin America, with about a third of the total coming from Mexico. More than a third (34.9 percent) come from Asia. Among those who gained legal permanent resident status in 2013, the top countries of origin were Mexico, India and China. Refugees are also resettling in Wisconsin, and among the 1,130 refugees resettled in the state in 2014, the top countries of origin were Burma, Iraq and Somalia.
Wisconsin residents generally favor immigration reform that would provide some path to legal status for the state’s undocumented immigrants. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 61 percent of Wisconsin residents surveyed in 2014 said that immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements. An additional 15 percent said they should be allowed to become permanent residents, but not citizens.
“Immigration reform is something where both sides can find common ground — in business, law enforcement and religion … I pray that this comes to pass soon for the good of our country and the people who deserve due process.”
Lee Nanfelt, Associate Pastor, Alliance Bible Church, Mequon, Wisconsin
25 Wisconsin Evangelical Leaders Urge More Respectful Immigration Debate
Ahead of the Nov. 10, 2015, GOP presidential debate in Milwaukee, 25 evangelical leaders signed an open letter calling for a more respectful, constructive debate around immigrants and immigration.
“Scripture repeatedly calls us to extend hospitality and kindness to immigrants,” signatories wrote. “As many local churches throughout our state have sought to do so, we have been blessed by the immigrants within our community, many of whom are now integral parts of our local churches.
“ … We are looking for presidential candidates who offer sensible policies on immigration that will not only secure our borders and meet the needs of our labor markets, but which also address immigrant communities with compassion.”
Immigrants Help Revitalize an Aging Workforce, Contribute in STEM Fields
Immigrants make up 5.6 percent of the state’s workforce, and they will play an increasing role as Wisconsin’s native-born workers age out or otherwise leave the workforce. Wisconsin’s cities, like many others in the Midwest, are facing declines in the number of native-born workers, and immigrants are helping to stem that loss.
This demographic reality can be illustrated by looking at what is happening to Wisconsinites age 35 to 44 — prime work years. From 2000 to 2010, Milwaukee’s native-born population in that age group declined 24.3 percent while the immigrant population in that group increased by 79.7 percent. Other cities in the state saw similar changes in the 35- to 44-year-old population between 2000 and 2010. Madison experienced a 12 percent decline in natives in that age bracket, while the immigrant population increased by 89 percent. For Racine, it was a 25 percent decline for natives and an increase of 94 percent for immigrants. In Green Bay, there was a 20 percent decline vs. a 62 percent increase. Janesville saw its native population decline by 19 percent while the immigrant population grew by 76 percent.
As an older native population exits the workforce, the workers who replace them increasingly will be younger immigrants.
In addition, foreign students studying at Wisconsin’s colleges and universities are more likely than are native students to be studying subjects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In 2009, more than one in three students earning master’s or doctorate degrees in STEM fields from Wisconsin’s universities were foreign-born. If allowed to stay in the U.S., these students could help reduce a shortage of STEM workers in the state. Wisconsin will need to fill 120,330 new STEM jobs by 2020.
The foreign-born are helping to drive innovation in Wisconsin. In 2011, 71 percent of patents awarded to the University of Wisconsin system had at least one foreign-born inventor.
Immigrants and American-born Asians and Latinos Boost Wisconsin’s Economy
In 2014, the combined purchasing power of Asians and Latinos in Wisconsin totaled $12.4 billion. The state’s 18,800 Latino- and Asian-owned businesses generated sales of $8.4 billion and employed 44,000 people in 2012, according to the Census Bureau.
From 2006 to 2010, 4.7 percent of business owners in the state overall were immigrants. However, the percentage was higher in some cities and in various sectors. In Milwaukee, for example, immigrants owned 7.9 percent of all businesses and 11 percent of “main-street” businesses, which involve retail, food and accommodations and neighborhood services that generate neighborhood-level economic revitalization.
Immigrants without authorization also contribute to Wisconsin’s economy. In 2013, an estimated 76,000 undocumented immigrants called Wisconsin home, and they make up about 1.3 percent of the state’s overall workforce. An estimated 23 percent of undocumented workers are employed in manufacturing industries in the state, while another 20 percent are working in Wisconsin’s arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services industries.
If all of the state’s undocumented immigrants were removed, Wisconsin would suffer the loss of $2.6 billion in economic activity, resulting in the loss of more than 14,000 jobs statewide. Wisconsin also would lose nearly $100 million in state and local taxes, the amount undocumented immigrants paid in 2010.
A Broken Immigration System Hurts Wisconsin’s Dairy Industry
Wisconsin comes by its nickname “America’s Dairyland” honestly: More than 14,000 dairy farms operate in the state.
The state’s dairy farms are increasingly reliant on hired labor, and much of that labor is immigrant labor. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin estimate that more than 40 percent of the hired employees in Wisconsin’s dairies are immigrants, the majority of whom are from Mexico. Many of these workers lack authorization to work in the U.S., which exposes both farmers and employees to risks of sanctions and deportation. Beyond that, according to the researchers, the limitations posed by reliance on undocumented labor threaten the future of the dairy industry:
“[C]urrent work and wage structures on dairy farms, as well as the lack of legal immigration opportunities, limit the financial and legal abilities of immigrant employees to be a part of the next generation of Wisconsin dairy farmers. This dilemma is of significant relevance to the strength of the dairy industry and Wisconsin’s rural communities….”
Other researchers studying the U.S. dairy industry as a whole estimate that a 50 percent loss of foreign labor on dairy farms would cause U.S. milk production to decline by 14.7 billion pounds, raise the retail price of milk by more than 30 percent and cause the loss of more than 66,000 jobs.
“Growing up, I had eight siblings and 27 first cousins, all of whom were raised on farms,” Tim O’Harrow, a dairy farmer in Oconto Falls, wrote in a Green Bay Press-Gazette op-ed. “Today, six farming families remain in my community, but only three will stay on the farm past my generation. With smaller and fewer families, rural labor becomes an urgent issue — and immigrants are essential to our labor force, which struggles to pay competitive wages because of demands for cheap food. A better immigration process will ensure that our affordable food continues to be grown in the U.S.”
Immigrant, Latino and Asian Voters in Wisconsin
While a solid majority of Wisconsinites favor immigration reform with a path to citizenship, the number of Latino, Asian and immigrant voters — for whom immigration reform is particularly important — will grow significantly in the coming years. Between 2012 and 2020, an estimated 95,800 Hispanics and Asians will become eligible to vote in Wisconsin. This number includes Hispanic and Asian citizens who will turn 18 as well as immigrants acquiring citizenship who are 18 years and older.
In the 2012 presidential election, President Obama bested Mitt Romney by only about 205,000 votes out of more than 3 million cast. The Latino, Asian and new American voters of Wisconsin may play an outsize role in future elections.
Wisconsin Faith, Law Enforcement, Business Media Availability
Vice President of Public Affairs, Wisconsin Restaurant Association
Assistant Chief, Madison Police Department
Please contact Cathleen Farrell to arrange interviews.