Immigrants crucial to NYC economy

A symbol of immigration and freedomAccounting for 3.1 million of New York City’s population—the highest rate the city has seen in the last one hundred years—a new report from the state Controller’s office puts immigrant economic activity at $257 billion. The immigrant impact in New York has corresponds to a doubling of the population since 1970, which currently represents 37 percent of the population.

Immigrant economic activity includes the group’s representation in the city’s workforce. In 1990, 31 percent of New York workers were foreign-born. This is compared to the current 43 percent level of immigrant workforce representation. In raw numbers, this translates to nearly 1.9 million immigrants working in the city. Of these almost 300,000 are suburban commuters.

Financially speaking, immigrant workers in New York earned $115 billion in 2013. The figure accounted for one-third of total wages paid in the area. Much of these wages were earned in the construction industry, which leads the city in its share of immigrant workers.

Controller numbers reports 59 percent of construction jobs in New York go to foreign-born workers. Immigrants represent half of all workers in the personal services, hospitality, leisure, manufacturing, health care, transportation and utilities industries.

According to the report, the significant share of workforce representation in low-pay, low-skill jobs is only part of the picture of immigrant economics. The reports states immigrants are also well represented in high-pay positions like doctors, accountants, auditors and financial managers.

Interestingly, the report also points out the two-year period from 2007 to 2009 saw immigrant wages decrease by 12 percent. From 2010-2012, the wages “quickly rebounded” with a 16 percent increase.

The breakout of the numbers underscores the important economic role immigrants play in the city’s revitalization efforts.

“It’s a huge marker about the value of immigrants,” says Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Thomas DiNapoli, who heads the New York City Controller office, says the report shows immigrants and immigrant neighborhoods are at the top of the list of beneficiaries in terms of economic impact. “The workforce is becoming more diverse, and the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of immigrants are experiencing economic growth that far exceeds the citywide average,” DiNapoli said.