Immigration Economics: Helpful or Hurtful?
By Cardiff de Alejo Garcia

If the national debate over immigration’s economic impact is contentious (see article), the same conversation takes a different form – and a more pleasant tone – in New York City.

The widely cited survey, The Newest New Yorkers, from the Department of City Planning, credits immigration as the single biggest reason for the city’s steadily increasing population, which reached a new high of more than eight million people in 2000. This increase may have prevented the city’s economy from collapsing as it did in the 1970s, when New York’s population decreased by nearly 10 percent, contributing to the city’s near bankruptcy. 

Immigration in New York City

Learn about the impact of immigration on the national economy

Listen to Jagdish Bhagwati Ph.D., an economist at Columbia University.

“Immigrants have long been a vital component of New York City’s population
and its economic dynamism,” argued James Parrott, chief economist of the nonpartisan Fiscal Policy Institute, in a presentation last year to the New York Immigration Coalition.

Census Bureau statistics show why. Each
year there are more people leaving New York City than people coming in. From 2000 to 2003, about 475,000 New York residents left to other cities in the U.S. This loss was mitigated in part by the arrival of 339,000 immigrants over the same period. The reason that the population still managed to increase during that time was that births outpaced deaths by around 200,000. Here, too, immigrants played a substantial role: more than half of all births in New York City
are to foreign-born women. 

The Newest New Yorkers survey also shows how immigrants have disproportionately contributed to the City’s labor pool — especially in jobs vital to the City’s infrastructure. As of 2000, immigrants accounted for 43 percent of New York City working residents. They occupied 46 percent of manufacturing jobs, 58 percent of construction jobs and 54 percent of jobs in the category of Accomodation, Food, and other Services. 

Since the release of the survey, few have argued against the benefits of immigration in New York City. Andrew Beveridge, a professor of sociology at Queens College and authority on local demographic trends, believes that New York City’s remarkable diversity inclines New Yorkers to look more favorably upon immigrants: “Given the demographics of New York City,” he wrote recently in the Gotham Gazette, “it seems likely that most New Yorkers will remain well disposed towards the city's immigrants, legal or illegal.” 

Of New York City’s 2.9 million immigrants (roughly 36 percent of the city’s population), the country with the largest representation of foreign-born residents was the Dominican Republic, with only 13 percent, according to the 2000 Census

“When you get a lot of communities to interact, there is a synergy,” said Jagdish Bhagwati, a Columbia University economist, referring to the amalgam of ethnicities in New York City.  “And these immigrants are a very good role model for kids.  Many of them are people who made it from nothing.  If they can do it, why not us?”


2006 NYC24 is a production of the New Media Workshop at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism