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Report Highlights the Many Economic Contributions of Refugees in the U.S.

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Jun 16, 2016 09:00 AM |
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Welcoming refugees who flee to the United States to escape potential persecution in their home countries is not just the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective. It’s also good for the continued growth of our economy, according to a new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. 

Refugee Integration in the United States focuses on four groups that are identifiable in Census Bureau data – Somali, Burmese, Hmong, and Bosnian refugees – that together constitute about 500,000 U.S. residents, and 20 percent of all refugees. The report demonstrates the many ways that refugees contribute to economic growth in cities and states throughout the country. A few highlights: 

  • Refugees contribute to the labor force soon after they arrive and become even more fully integrated into the workforce after 10 years in the United States.
  • Refugees start a wide range of small businesses at high rates.
  • Refugees bring economic and cultural vitality to many areas with dwindling populations. 

With regard to business ownership, refugees follow the trend of U.S. immigrant populations in general: They have high overall rates of business ownership. For example, there are 36 immigrant business owners for every 1,000 people in the labor force, higher than the rate for U.S.-born, which is 31 for every 1,000 in the labor force. And within the refugee populations studied in the new report:

  • Bosnians own businesses at a rate of 31 per 1,000, with high rates of ownership in trucking and construction businesses, as well as in professional and business services and restaurants. 
  • Burmese, with a business ownership rate of 26 per 1,000, are spread across a wide number of types of businesses, from retail store owners to doctors with their own private practices.
  • Hmong, at 22 per 1,000, tend to own businesses in agriculture, retail, restaurants, home health care, and nail salons
  • Somalis, at 15 per 1,000, often become shop owners and travel agents, and they own incorporated businesses in taxi or truck driving – with some concentration also found among engineers and scientific consultants.

Click on graphic to see enlarged version.

Refugee Business Ownership Chart 2016

Local economies throughout Washington state benefit from the addition of these small businesses, especially given the high percentage of Somali and Bosnian refugees who reside in this state. Washington has the nation’s third-largest Somali refugee population – more than 9,000. There are also more than 3,700 Bosnian refugees, nearly 2,000 Burmese, and more than 1,000 Hmong who make Washington their home. All refugee and immigrant communities are an important part of the fabric of society, making our state more culturally rich and economically vibrant. 

The four refugee groups studied in this report came to the United States to escape hardships unimaginable to many people – including civil war, genocide, displacement, and sectarian violence. And yet since starting over in an unknown country over the last several decades, they have helped to strengthen local economies, build thriving businesses, and enrich communities in unquantifiable ways.

Policymakers in our state and our country continue to wrestle with how to handle a sharp rise in the number of people around the globe displaced by conflict and persecution in places like Syria. The United States has only resettled around 1,200 Syrian refugees, well below its pledged goal of 10,000 for fiscal year 2016. In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has made the case for welcoming Syrians. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he highlighted the example of how Governor Dan Evans welcomed the Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, unlike governors in many other states at the time. It has led to a large, thriving Vietnamese-American community in our state. 

Yet resettlement still continues to be a complicated issue with many vocal critics. Amid these complications, Refugee Integration in the United States demonstrates there is reason for encouragement. When welcomed into the United States and provided a safe haven, refugees bring untold cultural and economic benefits to our states. 

For further reading about how all immigrants contribute to Washington, see our previous blog post on the topic. 

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