WXXI Local Stories
Mon November 26, 2007
Immigrants Contribute $229B to State's Economy
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – A new study finds that immigrants in New York make a significant contribution to the economy, of $229 billion dollars a year. Immigrants who spoke at the unveiling of the report said they've been unfairly maligned by the recent debate over driver's licenses.
The report, by the union financed think tank Fiscal Policy Institute, finds immigrants make up one fifth of New York State's population. They work at nearly half of the jobs in New York City, at 46%, and hold 18% of the jobs in the downstate suburbs. Some are day laborers, but more work as accountants nurses,CEOs, and as other professionals. Upstate, immigrants make up just 5% of the population, but hold a large number of jobs, 20%, as professors and researchers at colleges and universities. Many also work as doctors. 35% of all upstate physicians and surgeons are immigrants.
The study's author, David Kallick, says immigrants have been "misrepresented". He says he hopes the data dispels some of the myths about immigrants, and helps change some of the negative views of the vast and diversified immigrant community.
"We decided we needed to have some hard numbers to show what was really going on," Kallick said.
Kallick says around 16% of the state's immigrants, or around 700,000, are so- called undocumented immigrants, and some are in this country illegally. He says others in that group are in the process of becoming citizens. He says many of the undocumented immigrants pay taxes; sales taxes on items they purchase, property taxes though their rent checks, and many even pay into the social security system, though they are not allowed to receive any retirement benefits.
Chung-Wha Hong, who heads the New York Immigrant Coalition, says the furor over Governor Spitzer's recent proposal to grant driver's licenses to some immigrants without social security numbers harmed the public's perception of immigrants. Governor Spitzer has since dropped the idea. Hong says it was a good plan that would've made people safer, but was poorly executed, and she says the "poisoned" rhetoric made any attempt at rational debate a "pathetic failure".
"It became 'open season' on undocumented immigrants," Hong said.
Joe Gomez, who came from Cuba in 1961 and now runs an electrical contracting firm in Albany, agrees that the debate over the driver's licenses was harmful to immigrants, particularly Hispanic immigrants. But he disagrees with the wisdom of the original proposal, saying no illegal immigrant "in their right mind" would want to risk signing up for a license.
Gomez, who says he loves the United States for its opportunity and freedom, put all five of his daughters through college. They now hold jobs as a doctor, teacher, computer scientist, mathematician and business administrator.
Eduardo Giraldo, originally from Columbia, worked and went to school at St John's University in Queens, and was employed by major insurance companies like Met Life and AIG. He now runs an insurance firm targeted to Hispanics, many of whom are recent immigrants. He says his business had grown at a healthy pace, until the past couple of years. He says uncertainty over immigration policy and negative rhetoric about immigrants have led many to rethink whether they want to stay in this country permanently.
"A lot of people are afraid of making investments, or saving, or even buying houses," Giraldo said.
The authors of the report on immigrants' contribution to the state's economy say they hope it will help move public policy toward encouraging the immigrants to stay here.