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July, 2013

Immigration in Minnesota: 5 things you should know


Craig Helmstetter

While Minnesota still has proportionally fewer immigrants than the U.S. as a whole (7% compared with 13% nationally), the state’s foreign-born population is actually increasing faster than the national average—in Minnesota, it has tripled since 1990, but only doubled nationally.

Compass project manager Craig Helmstetter points out 5 things Minnesotans should know about this growing population.

1. Minnesota’s immigrant population is different from the U.S. as a whole.

Over half of all immigrants nationally are from Latin America, including Mexico. In Minnesota, less than a third of the immigrant population is from Latin America. Nationally only 4 percent of the immigrant population is from Africa. Here that figure is 20 percent.

While the Twin Cities area remains the most common destination for immigrants, the foreign-born population is growing throughout the state and looks very different in each region.

On top of that is the fact that immigrants in Minnesota are much more likely to be refugees fleeing war-torn countries than are immigrants in most other states.

2. As a group, immigrants are younger.

If you plot on a graph the number of people in each age category by 5-year increments by nativity, you will see a very obvious bulge among the native-born population, representing the baby boom generation. That bulge does not exist, however, for the state’s immigrant population, whose median age is somewhere in the low 30s. That has big implications for our currentand futureworkforce.

3. Some immigrants are highly educated (others are not).

It may not surprise you that a higher proportion of Minnesota’s native-born population has a high school diploma than does our immigrant population (94% compared with 73%). It may, however, surprise some of you that advanced degrees are slightly more common among the state’s immigrant population than the native-born population (14% and 10%, respectively).

4. Most immigrants are employed, especially those who have been here 5 or more years.

The best comparative data that we have on workforce participation lags current market conditions by a few years, but it is still telling. According to census data collected from 2008-2010, about 70 percent of the local immigrant population age 16 to 64 was working for paynot far off the 75 percent reported for Minnesota's native-born population during that same time period. 

What’s more, the overall rate of immigrant employment is pulled down a bit by the lower rate of the most recent immigrants; the workforce participation for those who have been here fewer than 5 years is 56 percent. Those who’ve been here longer have a workforce participation rate that is slightly higher79 percent than the overall native-born population. Of course this does not mean that everyone is working in the jobs that they would like, or that our local economy is taking full advantage of the skills available among the immigrant workforcebut the same could be said for at least some of the native-born population.

5. Workforce participation rates vary considerably by specific immigrant group.

Almost by definition immigrants are a diverse group. Also push and pull factors lead to waves of immigrants at different times and with different skill sets. A snapshot of the largest immigrant groups in Minnesota shows workforce participation rates varying from highs of over 75 percent for those born in India, Liberia, and Vietnam to a low of 48 percent for the most recent of the larger immigration populations, Somali immigrants. Differences by gender are also dramatic.

Craig Helmstetter is a fourth generation descendant of German and Norwegian immigrants. He is also a senior research manager at Wilder Research and the project manager of Minnesota Compass.

A new age of immigrants

This report from Wilder Research was commissioned by The Minneapolis Foundation to help promote constructive dialogue on the issue of immigration in Minnesota. It lays out immigration facts and poses unanswered questions.

Featured trend

Proportion of adults working by race

Gap in employment by race has narrowed

In 2012, 15 percentage points separated the shares of non-Hispanic whites and people of color who were working; today, the gap stands at 10 percentage points. We now see higher levels of employment among both groups, but gains in employment have been stronger for workers of color. In particular, we have seen strong gains in employment among black and Hispanic Minnesotans over the last several years.

See more data on proportion of adults working.