More immigrants seen as economic boon (7-3-13 St. Louis American)
by Rebecca S. Rivas
More immigrants mean a stronger economy, and the St. Louis should take active steps to invite more immigrants to the region.
That’s basically what several St. Louis city and county leaders told the community on June 27 when they announced the region’s new immigrant welcoming committee, called St. Louis Regional Immigration and Innovation Steering Committee. The group’s first step is to launch the St. Louis Mosaic Project, a marketing strategy for attracting and welcoming immigrants.
St. Louis has less than 5 percent foreign-born people living in the region. It ranks in the top 20 in population but 42nd in terms of immigrants.
If St. Louis had experienced inflows of immigrants similar to other large cities, its income growth would have been 4 to 7 percent greater, and the region’s income would be 7 to 11 percent larger, according to a 2012 study by Jack Strauss, professor of economics and director of the Simon Center for Regional Forecasting at Saint Louis University.
“That study clearly showed that the number one reason why we have population stagnation and economic decline is because we don’t have enough foreign-born individuals in our community,” said Bob Fox, board chairman of Casa de Salud and a member of the steering committee.
Statistical analyses show that immigration expands a region’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization, Strauss said.
“This in turn leads to efficiency gains, higher profits and wage raises for all workers,” he said.
The Mosaic Project puts into play the study’s recommendation for creating a “welcoming campaign.” The idea is to engage local chambers of commerce, health-care providers, politicians and volunteers in driving home the message that immigration can create opportunities.
On Thursday, local leaders – from the St. Louis Regional Chamber and World Trade Center to the St. Louis County Economic Council (SLCEC) and St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) – pledged to be part of this welcoming committee.
“St. Louis has such a diverse, stable economy,” said James H. Buford, president of the Urban League and committee member. “It is a perfect community to come and settle, be embraced, bring new ideas and start your business. I want to see an economic engine for growth.”
The committee’s chairs include SLDC Executive Director Rodney Crim, Regional Chamber President & CEO Joe Reagan and SLCEC President & CEO Denny Coleman.
“Immigrants create small businesses,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley. “And through small businesses, they create jobs and opportunity.”
In his report, Strauss also said the region’s poor immigrants are not a “burden” to the system because they are less likely to receive food stamps and cash assistance.
Also, immigrants are not taking away jobs but creating them. Encouraging immigration can lower both the white and African-American unemployment rate by about two percent, the study found.
Strauss goes a step further to focus on just African Americans and Latinos in his June 2013 study, “Allies, Not Enemies: How Latino immigration boosts African American employment and wages.”
Despite the myth, African Americans are actually helped – not hurt – economically by Latino immigration, the study shows. St. Louis has only 1.5 percent of its population from Latin America. If St. Louis had a Latino population as large as other large metropolitan areas, African-American wages would be approximately 30 percent higher, according to the report.
“To the extent that there really is a ‘black-brown’ divide, it is rooted in politics and perception – not economics,” he said.
The study, which analyzed over 900 cities, is the largest economic examination of immigration’s effect on African Americans in terms of wages and employment to date.
“Economic tension between African Americans and Latinos is not one that we have particularly seen in St. Louis, and it is refreshing to see a study that attempts to override popular perceptions of these populations,” said Karlos Ramirez, executive director of the St. Louis Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The Hispanic Chamber’s experience in the St. Louis region has generally been one of “mutual respect and cooperation” with the African-American community, he said.
“Strauss’s study does a great job at looking at all of the variables that can promote economic growth within a city,” Ramirez said, “and it is refreshing to see a study that promotes diversity, statistically showing how diversity can positively impact a city as a whole.”
What are the next steps in the plan?
Using Strauss’ study as its foundation, the 18-member steering committee will build support for local recommendations to attract, support and ultimately retain new citizens.
Visit www.stlmosaicproject.org for more details.