On LI, study sees immigrants as economic boost

Saul Linares of Hempstead, right, holds the American

Saul Linares of Hempstead, right, holds the American Flag along with others outside Sen. Charles Schumer's Long Island office in Melville. (Mar. 4, 2010) (Credit: Craig Ruttle)

Immigrants on Long Island add needed workers to the local labor force, creating new businesses and joining a wider variety of occupations than generally recognized, a new study finds.

The Manhattan-based Fiscal Policy Institute, which will release the study results today at a Hofstra University conference, analyzed census data during three boom years - 1990, 2000 and 2007 - and concluded immigrants on Long Island fit into the local economy without displacing U.S.-born workers.

It found unemployment rates for most U.S.-born workers remained stable or fell only slightly in each of the boom periods. The exception, the report found, was for African-American men with a high school education or less. Their unemployment rate rose 2 percentage points between 1990 and 2000, before dipping slightly by 2007.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, the report's lead author, said the report focused on Long Island because it is "a hot spot" in the immigration debate. "We felt like much of the discussion was done in the absence of any real analysis of the role immigrants are playing."

Economists, immigrant advocates and others welcomed the yearlong research; others criticized it. "It seems to me that it is in tougher economic times that we are better able to determine the overall impact of newcomers on native-born residents," said Seth Forman, chief planner with the Long Island Regional Planning Council. The institute plans to analyze the effect of the current recession on U.S. and foreign-born workers in a future report.

Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, called it "a seminal study," adding that research of this type has never before been conducted on Long Island.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a frequent critic of illegal immigration, said the report "blurs the line between legal and illegal immigration and fails to account for the drain that illegal immigration has been on our health care, educational and corrections institutions."

Kamer said she was surprised by the study's finding that while immigrants represented 16 percent of the Island's population in 2006, they accounted for "18 percent of economic output." It found immigrants make up a bigger share of the labor force (21 percent) than their share of the population.

The report looks at the combined effect of all immigrants and notes the difficulty in getting accurate data on undocumented workers. It finds 53 percent of the 293,000 immigrants in Long Island's labor force work in white-collar jobs, 24 percent are in blue-collar jobs and 20 percent are in mostly lower-wage service jobs.

Luis Valenzuela, of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, said the report disputed the myth that Hispanic immigrants "are just day laborers" and showed they were "helping to shore up the economy of Long Island."

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