Area’s immigrants pack $5.4B punch - The Dallas Morning News
Area’s immigrants pack $5.4B punch
Study shows spending power in 2016 was 22% of city population’s total
By DIANNE SOLÍS Staff Writer dsolis@dallasnews.com
DALLAS ECONOMY

City leaders and a coalition of business and political leaders released a study Wednesday that says immigrants in Dallas had $5.4 billion in spending power in 2016. That represents about 22 percent of the city population’s entire $24.1 billion in spending muscle.

“Findings for Dallas really amplify trends we see across the country in the sense that immigrants are overrepresented in the workforce,” said Kate Brick, director of state and local initiatives for the New American Economy coalition.

“Immigrants are a net contributor, and we really need them.”

Release of the economic study at a conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas comes in the wake of the immigration crackdown that has become the signature issue of the administration of President Donald Trump.

The event was sponsored by the city of Dallas and its year-old Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs and the New American Economy coalition.

Liz Cedillo-Pereira, the immigration lawyer who heads the new office, said her agency had received a New American Economy grant for “granular data that will tell the story, the evidence-based story, of what immigrants are doing in the economy.”

About a quarter of the Dallas population is foreign-born, according to a 2016 estimate by the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau. Yet the immigrants make up about 31.5 percent of the employed labor force, Brick said.

Immigrants also accounted for nearly a third of all entrepreneurs in Dallas, the study found.

And in the arenas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields, Dallas foreign-born make up nearly 24 percent of its workers — flipping a narrative that immigrants are exclusively low-skilled.

The study drew from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Congressional Budget Office. It doesn’t take into account how immigrants spend their money, but is meant to illustrate their economic power.

The New American Economy is a coalition of business and political leaders that includes the chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Co. and former mayors of New York, Philadelphia and San Antonio. The coalition was formed several years ago to push for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

Federal Reserve vice president and senior economist Pia Orrenius told the crowd of about 100 persons from education nonprofits and business and foreign consular communities that she was impressed with the new study. Then, Orrenius, who has studied immigration and labor issues extensively, launched into her own research, moving through record low unemployment rates of the state to international migration.

One challenge that lies ahead is what Orrenius called the “Texas college deficit.” Among Hispanics, many of whom come from immigrant families, only 49 percent are finishing college, compared with 67 percent of the non-Hispanic white population, Orrenius noted.

Overall, about 30 percent of Texans between the ages of 25 and 34 years have a college degree.

That compares with the overall U.S. rate of about 35 percent.

Children of Hispanic immigrants in Texas “have not completely assimilated to the rate of the college completion that we see of non-Hispanic whites,” Orrenius said. “Hispanic youth are such a large component of our young people. ... That is a concern going forward,” she said.

Twitter: @disolis