Shining a flattering light on California's growing immigrant population, researchers reported Tuesday that the state's foreign-born residents are more likely than the native-born to have jobs, and they put more into the economy than they take out of it.
The study supports calls for proposed changes in immigration laws that would "allow immigrants to contribute more fully to the California economy," said Reshma Shamasunder, director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, which released the report.
The study concluded that although many immigrants need public assistance right after they arrive in the United States, they tend to improve their financial situations over time through hard work and entrepreneurship.
"There's always a sense that immigrants are a drain on the economy rather than contributing," said Manuel Pastor, director of the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, which conducted the study. "What I think this suggests is there are huge contributions, and those contributions grow over time."
The California Immigrant Policy Center describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit statewide organization that focuses on supporting pro-immigrant policies.
The study made no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants because of limitations in the available data, most of which came from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey in 2005-07. That prompted an opponent of illegal immigration to call the report "irrelevant."
"We believe immigration is the lifeblood of our economy and our culture," said Tony Bell, spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. "It is illegal immigration that takes a catastrophic economic and cultural toll. ... Any study that doesn't differentiate between the two cannot be taken seriously."
But the USC researchers said they looked at illegal immigrants in a separate study released earlier this month, concluding that giving legal status to currently "unauthorized" members of the Latino work force would add $16billion annually to the California economy.
Pastor said that because of differences in wages and access to public services, illegal immigrants' net contribution to the state may be higher than that of legal immigrants.
The new study portrays an immigrant population that is already critical to the state's economic prospects.
California's 9.9 million immigrants represent 27 percent of the population, the highest of any state. Forty-eight percent of children living in California have at least one immigrant parent. And their impact is rising, with immigrant voters and their children likely to represent 29 percent of potential voters by 2012.
As for their economic impact, immigrants make up 34 percent of the labor force. Among people over age 16, 62 percent of immigrants are employed, slightly more than the 60 percent of non-immigrants. And among Latino and Asian men in the 25-64 age group, 84 percent of immigrants are employed, in contrast with 78 percent of U.S.-born men in that category.
Immigrants contribute 32 percent of California's gross domestic product and 27 percent of total household income - the basis for the researchers' conclusion that they give more to the economy than they get from it.
Pastor said studying immigrants of different generations shows a "dramatic" decline in poverty rates and rise in home-ownership over the years.
The full report is online at caimmigrant.org/contributions.html