Prosperity Watch Issue 41, No. 3: New Americans and North Carolina's Economy

Immigrants are workers, consumers, and business owners in North Carolina’s economy and their economic contributions outpace what would be expected given their share of the population. As of 2011, North Carolina’s foreign-born population represented 7.3 percent of the overall population while their economic output through wages, salaries and business incomes represented $11 billion or 8.1 percent of the state’s total economic output.

There are three main factors supporting immigrant’s greater-than-proportionate contributions to North Carolina’s economy. First, immigrants’ distribution across the economic spectrum is more diverse than generally assumed. Thirty-seven percent of immigrants work in white-collar jobs with a similar figure, 39.2 percent, working in blue-collar jobs, and the remaining workers employed in the service or farming sectors.

Second, immigrants are more likely to be prime-working age than their U.S. born counterparts. While 61.3 percent of the U.S. born population is between the ages of 18 and 64, 84.8 percent of the foreign-born population is of prime-working age. This higher share of workers provides greater earning potential for immigrants as a group. However, it is important to note that the median wages and salary for immigrants is roughly $10,000 lower than that for U.S. born workers.

Finally, immigrants are more likely to be small business owners. Nearly one in 10 immigrants reports being self-employed or having an incorporated business. These businesses generated $974 million in profits and continue to contribute to the revitalization of many main streets in rural and small town communities across North Carolina. Moreover, since 1990 small businesses owned by immigrants represented 17 percent of the total growth in small businesses.

For county-level data on immigrants economic contributions, click here.

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