Can immigration speed the economic recovery?

CBS News

(MoneyWatch) Cities and towns across the U.S. struggling to recover from the Great Recession could benefit from a key force for economic renewal: Immigrants.

Foreign-born residents, who now account for one in eight Americans, are boosting job growth, raising home prices and more broadly helping to revive thousands of economically distressed communities, according to a new report by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Partnership for a New American Economy.

"Immigrants are a key part of the American success story at the community level, revitalizing local areas and creating economic growth and jobs for U.S.-born workers," the report said.

The organizations, whose membership consists mostly of business leaders and city mayors, advocate changing the nation's immigration laws by, among other things, making it easier for high-skilled workers to obtain visas and expanding "guest worker" programs. They are among the bevy of interest groups, from high-tech and agricultural giants to grass-roots advocates, lobbying on immigration reform.

The study, prepared for the groups by Duke public policy and economics professor Jacob Vigdor, assessed the economic impact of immigration on more than 3,000 U.S. counties between 1970 and 2010.

Immigration both creates and saves jobs, the business groups contend. That is especially true for the beaten down manufacturing sector, which has eroded for decades as corporations exported millions of jobs to low-wage countries around the globe and as workers have been replaced by technology.

Immigrants contribute economically by earning and spending money, which benefits local businesses, and by generating tax revenue. The organizations also say immigrants provide companies with a pool of workers whose skills are in short supply in the broader U.S. population. That ready source of domestic labor means employers are less likely to ship jobs abroad.

"For every 1,000 immigrants who live in a county, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved," said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, in an interview, adding that communities with higher rates of immigration retain more manufacturing jobs than areas with fewer immigrants.

Nearly 12 million Americans, 9 percent of U.S. workers, are employed in manufacturing, according to industry figures. Overall, there are 40 million immigrants, roughly 13 percent of the population. That is up from 10 million, or 7 percent, in 1950.

As evidence of the positive impact of immigration on job growth, the groups point to parts of the U.S such as Harris County, Texas, a petrochemicals hub that saw the fastest growth in manufacturing employment over the last four decades. Other areas that have seen a significant expansion in manufacturing include Maricopa County in Arizona and Orange, San Diego and Santa Clara counties in California.

Immigration also has spurred job-creation in rural communities, such as Buena Vista County, Iowa, and in towns along the North Carolina coast, according to the report.

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