Rockefeller Study: Immigrants Provide Economic Boost, But 4 in 10 Here Illegally

A study commissioned by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation found that roughly four in 10 immigrants in Arkansas are in the country illegally, but that immigrants as a whole provide a net positive impact on the state's economy.

The study's findings, unveiled simultaneously Tuesday morning in Little Rock and Springdale, revealed that immigrants still represent a small percentage of the state's population at 5 percent, but 42 percent of that figure -- about 2 percent of the overall population -- are undocumented. Nationally, the percentage of foreign-born citizens is 13 percent and the rate of unauthorized residents is about 29 percent.

The report did not attempt to address political aspects of immigration issues, but rather focused on the demographics of Arkansas immigrants, the economic and fiscal impact of those immigrants, and the Marshallese population in Arkansas. Arkansas has the second largest population of Marshall Islanders outside the Marshall Islands.

The net economic impact of immigrants in Arkansas amounted to $3.4 billion in 2010. That figure subtracts the cost of essential services ($555 million) from immigrants' combined consumer expenditures and tax contributions ($3.9 billion), the study said.

The study found that immigrants contributed more economically to state and local governments than was spent on providing essential services to their households: Of every dollar spent on immigrants in Arkansas, the state economy gained $7.

The full report, "A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas 2013," is available for download at WRFoundation.org. A similar study was conducted in 2007.

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 study's findings are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Department of Education.

4th in Immigrant Populations

Arkansas maintains one of the country's fastest-growing immigrant populations, ranking fourth nationally and down slightly from ranking second in 2007. From 2000 to 2010, the state's foreign-born population grew by 82 percent to a total of about 133,000.

Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, attended the Little Rock unveiling at the state Capitol and said immigrants were good for Arkansas business and an important piece of the work puzzle in Arkansas.

"We need them," he said. "They provide a level of labor resource that is critically vital to the state's economy. We'd have a number of industry sectors in this state challenged without them."

Sherece West-Scantlebury, president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, said immigrants in Arkansas are integrating well, most have been in the state for 10-plus years and that immigrants are helping keep the economy vibrant and competitive.

Immigrants in Arkansas mostly work in low-income, manufacturing jobs, and about 44 percent of them live in Washington, Benton and Sebastian counties. Seventeen percent of Arkansas immigrants live in Pulaski County.

Latino immigrant men, at 88 percent, have the highest employment rate of any group, foreign- or native-born, the study found. About half of the state's Latino immigrants own their own home while two-thirds of non-Latino immigrants are home owners.

In-State Tuition

Joel Anderson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said children of undocumented immigrants, most of whom are U.S. born, should be allowed to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.

He said it wasn't fair to require them to engage the public education system from kindergarten through 12th grade and then treat them as "outsiders" when they want to pursue higher education, and even suggested that the state Legislature, which convenes next week, should address the issue.

Anderson called the national immigration debate a complicated and emotional issue, but said the federal government has been stagnant in regards to the influx of illegal workers coming across U.S. borders and how to deal with them.

The study also found:

  • Children of Arkansas immigrants represent about 10 percent of all Arkansas children and about 10 percent of all public K-12 students.
  • From 2000 to 2010, Latino children in Arkansas increased by 38,000 while non-Hispanic white children increased by 23,000. Whites now account for the fastest growth over the age of 45.
  • About half of all Arkansas immigrants come to the state after living somewhere else in the U.S.
  • Of all Marshall Islanders living in the U.S., 19 percent is in Arkansas and 88 percent of that group resides in Washington County, primarily in Springdale. Arkansas trails only Hawaii in Marshallese population outside the Marshall Islands (located in the central Pacific northeast of Australia).
  • Marshallese began relocating to Arkansas in the late 1980s and their population grew in large part thanks to word-of-mouth. Marshall Islanders came for work and educational opportunities, and according to West-Scantlebury, because they liked the overall temperate climate.
  • Two-thirds of Arkansas immigrants are from Latin America and most of them are from Mexico.
  • The top five countries of origin for Arkansas immigrants are Mexico, El Salvador, India, Marshall Islands and Vietnam.
  • In 2010, Arkansas immigrants represented $4.3 billion in consumer buying power.
  • Of the state's Latino immigrant population, about half entail a working father and stay-at-home mother.
  • Alabama currently has the fastest growing immigrant population, and the southeastern U.S. represents the area of the country with the fastest growing non-native population.
  • Sixty-three percent of Latino immigrants in Arkansas under the age of 65 did not have health-care coverage as of 2010, and 30 percent of them lived below the poverty line (compared to 32 percent of native-born Latinos, 34 percent of blacks, and 14 percent of non-Hispanic whites and Asians).