Not All Immigrants Work Low-Wage Positions


WASHINGTON (April 22, 2010)—Mauricio Barreiro didn't speak "a lick of English" when he first came to America from Colombia at age 5.

Now, the 49-year-old attorney, of Hydes, owns his own practice, serves as president of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and can afford to put his two children through college.

Barreiro's experience is not the only success story in the Baltimore-metropolitan area.

Baltimore ranks third nationwide in metropolitan areas with immigrants in high-wage managerial or professional positions, according to a recent report.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York-based nonpartisan research organization, used census data to analyze immigrants in the 25 largest metropolitan areas. The study, released April 15, found areas with immigrants evenly distributed across the economic spectrum are more likely to see more economic growth.

The report contradicts a common belief, usually held by immigration opponents, that immigrants flood the country to work low-wage positions, take American jobs and burden taxpayers.

In a 2009 Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans said immigrants cost taxpayers too much money as opposed to the 31 percent who said immigrants become productive citizens who pay their fair share of taxes.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, the principal author of the report, said that's not the case.

"We found, contrary to the broad misconception, immigrants are working in a very wide range of jobs," Kallick said.

In 14 of the 25 locations, more immigrants work in white-collar jobs than all other types of jobs combined, according to the report.

In Baltimore, 38 percent of immigrants work in managerial and professional jobs like doctors and lawyers. Baltimore is also the second-most-educated area, with 69 percent of immigrants having at least some college education.

The Washington metropolitan area, too, has similar numbers of educated and white-collar immigrants.

However, the area's immigrants represent 20 percent of its population, while Baltimore's immigrants represent only 8 percent of its population.

The report found that the size of an immigrant population and how evenly immigrants are distributed through the jobs spectrum correlates to the economic growth of an area.

"It's surprising to people because they expect high-skilled immigrants to drive economic growth," said Kallick. "And the reality is where there is economic growth, the metro area will draw immigrants from across the spectrum."

From 1990 to 2008, Baltimore's economy grew by just 45.5 percent compared to Washington's 73.1 percent or Phoenix's 140.4 percent.

In faster-growing places, like Phoenix and Las Vegas, where before the recession, there was a big housing market, plentiful construction and service jobs, "the economy was diverse and had various places where immigrants could fit in," said Audrey Singer, an immigration and migration expert at the Brookings Institute.

"In economies that are more stable and slower-growing, like Baltimore, the opportunities are fewer. The demand is not there for them," she said.

The report does not suggest that immigrants create economic growth, Kallick said, only that they participate in growth.

Barreiro said he doesn't see slow economic growth in Baltimore, but one "growing by leaps and bounds."

Through his own experience as a first-generation immigrant, he remembers the drive and push he felt to create better opportunities for his own family, he said. Most Hispanics in this area are trying to achieve the same thing.

"It's a very ambitious population," he said. "We have businesses sprouting everywhere of all types—blue-collar, white-collar. We're at a stage of growth. We're in the middle of a revolution."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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