Study shows immigrants benefit Arkansas economy

Children at their First Communion Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers present red roses in front of a statue of Mary May 19, 2012. Hispanic families often turn to the church for community and support.
Children at their First Communion Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers present red roses in front of a statue of Mary May 19, 2012. Hispanic families often turn to the church for community and support.

ROGERS — As the debate ensues over immigration and its proposed changes, the argument that the state of Arkansas is losing money has been debunked.

A study commissioned earlier this year by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation found immigrants in Arkansas provide a positive boost to the state’s economy. The report’s findings told a story with an unlikely twist — immigration is actually good for the economy.

For every dollar spent on immigrants in Arkansas, the state’s economy gained $7. Their net contribution to the state, according to the Rockefeller study, is an estimated $3.4 billion.

The findings turned upside down the idea that more dollars were thrown into providing various state and local services for the immigrant population than would be generated.

Released in January, the study did not approach the daunting task of tackling the politics of immigration but concentrated on the demographics of Arkansas immigrants and the economic and fiscal repercussions of their choosing this as the state to live.

Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, said the immigration population generates about 4 percent of the state’s gross domestic product and that immigrants provide a level of labor resource that is critically vital to the state’s economy.

“We need them,” Zook told reporters at the unveiling of the Rockefeller study at the state capitol last month. “We’d have a number of industry sectors in this state challenged without them.”

Frank Head, director of Catholic Charities Immigration Services-Springdale, knows this fact to be true as he visits with area manufacturers and local companies.

“The majority of immigrants come here willing to work hard and without that youthful influx of immigrants in the job force we would not continue to prosper,” he said.

Head explained that many immigrants coming over are willing to take the minimum wage jobs that are necessary to the success of a company. That base of employment allows the company to hire for other necessary jobs and pay salaries.

According to the Rockefeller study, immigrants in Arkansas mostly work in low-income manufacturing jobs and about 44 percent of them live in Washington, Benton and Sebastian counties. The study indicated only 17 percent live in Pulaski County. In spite of a national slowing of immigration, Arkansas remains one of the fastest-growing populations of immigrants. The state is ranked fourth in the nation while Alabama currently has the fastest growing immigrant population.

The study was conducted by the Migration Policy Institute of Washington, D.C., the University of Arkansas and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina. The 50-page report, “A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas in 2013,” can be read at www.wrfoundation.org.

Alesia Schaefer

Alesia Schaefer has been a Arkansas Catholic reporter and columnist from Northwest Arkansas for more than 10 years. A member of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers, she works as admissions director and cross country coach at Ozark Catholic Academy in Tontitown.

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