Staff Columnist

There's no free enterprise without immigrants

Felix Anaman of Iowa City is interviewed at the launch of the Iowa Compact on Immigration at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Anaman was recognized by Kim Casko, President & CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, during her remarks for his transportation business, Anaman Concierge Services, as well as recent naturalization as a US citizen. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Felix Anaman of Iowa City is interviewed at the launch of the Iowa Compact on Immigration at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Anaman was recognized by Kim Casko, President & CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, during her remarks for his transportation business, Anaman Concierge Services, as well as recent naturalization as a US citizen. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

It’s common to see opposition to immigration cloaked in economic anxiety — all at the same time, immigrants will take jobs from Americans, leach off taxpayers through social service programs, and also vote to impose socialism on the whole country.

A new analysis on immigrants living in Eastern Iowa — along with a large body of economic research — casts doubt on those assumptions.

The report published this month by the bipartisan research firm New American Economy shows immigrants make enormous impacts on the local economy. The study is part of a larger effort supported by the Cedar Rapids city government and its partners to help integrate immigrants in local communities.

Just 4.4 percent of the Linn County population is made up of immigrants, according to analysts. Between 2012 and 2017, the immigrant population grew by 62 percent, while the overall population grew by a little less than 4 percent.

That relatively small number of immigrants has a disproportionately high impact on the workforce, making up about 5 percent of employed workers. In some important sectors, immigrants represent an even higher share of the workforce — 15 percent of science, technology, engineering and math jobs; nearly 9 percent of manufacturing jobs; and 8 percent of hospitality jobs.

Most impressive, immigrants make up 7 percent of local business owners. They are more likely than U.S.-born citizens to have a bachelor’s degree, an advanced degree or be an entrepreneur.

If it’s government-sponsored health care you’re concerned about, consider that about 19 percent of the Linn County immigrant population receives Medicare and Medicaid benefits, compared with 31 percent of the U.S.-born population. The overwhelming majority of immigrants living here have private health insurance.

Immigrants are victims, not beneficiaries, of tax-and-spend politics. In 2017, local immigrants paid an estimated $80 million in state, local and federal taxes, or about 26 percent of their total income.

Many of my fellow conservatives have badly miscalculated the effects of immigration. Capitalism and free enterprise depend on the relatively free movement of humans across borders. Those humans, meanwhile, are greatly enriched by their freedom to seek work, education and entrepreneurial opportunities away from their home countries.

It is socialists, not capitalists, who have a long-standing ideological aversion to worker migration.

In 2015, Vox journalist Ezra Klein asked self-identified democratic socialist Bernie Sanders about increasing immigration, “even up to the level of open borders.” Sanders dismissed that as a “Koch brothers proposal,” a reference to the controversial libertarian businessmen.

“It would make everybody in America poorer,” Sanders said.

Bernie Sanders reminds Iowans that he loves borders

What Sanders seemed not to understand is that immigration grows the economy. It is not as if we all are competing for a fixed number of jobs. Economic research overwhelmingly shows that international movement improves outcomes for migrants, and there is some strong evidence that the impact on native workers is positive as well.

Immigrants are not taking our jobs. They are creating new ones, and we all benefit from that.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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