Immigrants are crucial contributors to our economy


An influx of refugees from Latin America, U.S. political wars, and the 2024 presidential campaign has fueled anti-immigrant campaigns in the United States. In statements echoing Adolf Hitler and Nazi ideology, former President Donald Trump promised, if he is elected again, to keep out refugees he believes are poisoning the “blood of America.” Governors of states along the southern border have been busing migrants to northern cities, straining municipal budgets and threatening to increase homelessness.

This kind of hostility to immigrants isn’t new. At the nation’s founding, Black immigration was banned. Starting in the 1880s, the United States limited Asian immigration. In 1924, advocates for immigration quotas that would restrict southern and Eastern Europeans, specifically Italians and Jews, argued that they would be too difficult to Americanize.

Thomas Aldrich published a poem in the Atlantic Monthly, “The Unguarded Gates,” in 1892, in which he warned, “Wide open and unguarded stand our gates, and through them presses a wild motley throng” with “accents of menace alien to our air.” Aldrich begged Lady Liberty, the “white Goddess,” to reconsidered whether it was wise “to leave the gates unguarded.”

During a congressional debate in 1924, Robert L. Bacon, a Republican who represented Suffolk County, argued, “We have work to do in assimilating and Americanizing those we already have living under our flag without lifting the floodgates and permitting an inundation to come rushing through … We cannot do this work if we spend all of our time at Ellis Island welcoming the millions who would like to come from other and more unfortunate lands … It must be admitted that the nationals of some countries assimilate easier and become Americanized quicker than the nationals of other countries.” The House of Representatives passed an immigration restriction law by a vote of 308-58; the vote in the Senate was 69-9.

A new study by the Immigration Research Initiative shines a different light on recent immigration. Focusing on Long Island, it argues that an influx of immigrants gives local economies a boost. About 20 percent of Long Island’s population is immigrants, and with their American-born children, their families make up a significantly larger portion of the population.

The study found that “New immigrants arriving to Long Island can expect to earn a median wage of about $27,000 per year. If there are two wage earners in a family, as is likely the case for most of the immigrants coming to New York, their combined income would be about $54,000” — well above the 2021 federal poverty level of $12,880 for individuals and $26,500 for a family of four. The study also found that after five years, the annual wage was closer to $35,000, bringing a two-income family’s earnings to about $70,000. The study’s authors calculated that the wages paid to every 1,000 newly arrived immigrant workers contributed $27 million to the local economy, and increased state and local tax revenues by about $3 million. After five years, the local benefit for each 1,000 workers is $35 million annually, and tax revenues increase to $4 million.

New immigrants also fill vital jobs, especially as caregivers for children, the elderly and the chronically ill, and in medical facilities. According to Anthony Capote, a senior policy analyst at the Immigration Research Initiative and one of the study’s authors, initially “there’s a net cost” as migrants integrate into new communities, “But in the long run, there’s a net benefit.” Nationally, immigrants pay almost $26 billion annually in income, Social Security and Medicare taxes. They also pay local sales and property taxes. New York state collects $1.1 billion in taxes from immigrant families, and that number would increase by $250 million if the federal government passed legislation creating a path to legal status for undocumented workers.

A number of countries now have aging or declining populations, including Japan, Italy, Finland, Portugal and Greece. In Japan, 28 percent of the population is 65 or older. In the United States the 65-and-older cohort is 16 percent. Seven European countries have populations declining at rates of over 18 percent. Japan’s rate is 16 percent, and its population is expected to drop by over 20 million by 2050. China reported a decline of almost 1 million in 2022, the first population decline there since famine in the 1950s and ’60s.

Aging and declining populations put a two-way strain on national social services. Older people need more health care and receive government pensions, and a higher ratio of retirees to workers means that a smaller percentage of workers are contributing to national budgets. The United States has largely avoided this problem because of the influx of younger immigrants into the workforce.

Dr. Alan Singer is a professor of teaching, learning and technology and the director of social studies education programs at Hofstra University.