By Brian McVicar
September 12, 2018
The city of Grand Rapids is joining with the business community and a refugee resettlement agency to highlight the economic impact of immigrants and work toward making Kent County more welcoming to foreign-born residents.
Partnering with New American Economy, a New-York based group focused on creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, they released a report Wednesday showing that foreign born residents contributed $3.3 billion to Kent County’s gross domestic product in 2016.
The county’s overall GDP is about $41 billion, according to figures provided by The Right Place, a local economic development group.
Immigrant households earned about $1.3 billion in 2016, with $101.5 million going toward state and local taxes, according to the report. Foreign-born residents include undocumented immigrants, refugees and immigrants who live in the U.S. legally.
“They are contributing to a lot of vital sectors in our community,” said Joel Lautenbach, executive director of development at Samaritas, a Detroit-based social service agency that focuses on refugee resettlement. “They are a very important source of labor in an economy that has long talked about a shortage of labor.”
In addition to Samaritas, which has a significant presence in Kent County, other organizations partnering on the effort include the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and The Right Place.
The findings of the report, conducted by New American Economy, were released Wednesday morning at a business breakfast at the Goei Center, 818 Butterworth Street SW. They will also be shared at a 5 p.m. community meeting at Cesar E. Chavez School, 1205 Grandville Ave. SW.
Among the report’s findings:
There were 50,176 immigrants living in Kent County in 2016, equal to about 8 percent of the population.
Foreign born residents contributed $124.6 million to Social Security and $33.3 million to Medicare. Twenty-six percent of residents in Grand Rapids received Medicare or Medicaid, compared with 31.3 percent of U.S.-born residents.
The report’s authors estimated that immigrants had created or helped preserve 2,308 local manufacturing jobs.
There were an estimated 13,384 undocumented residents in Kent County in 2016. That’s equivalent to 26.7 percent of the immigrant population.
The 2016 estimated median income of refugees in Kent County totaled $54,045. Nationally, median income among refugees varies based upon who long they have lived in the U.S. Those who have been in the country less than five years was estimated at $21,782, while those who have been here for more than 25 years totaled $67,000.
Moving forward, the groups will meet with the goal of developing recommendations aimed at making the county more welcoming to foreign born residents, Lautenbach said. Those recommendations will likely focus primarily upon actions that organizations in Kent County, including local governments and businesses, can do to accomplish that goal.
And while Lautenbach acknowledges the fractious debate over immigration – President Trump’s push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and crackdown on illegal immigration have generated significant controversy – he’s hopeful “politics” can be left out of the discussion.
“The report seeks to lay out the case that we can’t ignore the importance of immigrants,” he said. “To have the response that ‘well, that’s fine as long as their legal,’ is a pass at what we need to do as a whole community to make sure that we’re positioned to welcome people from a very diverse background to participate in all aspects of our society.”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com