A new report exploring the economic circumstances of more than half a million immigrants living on Long Island offers a tale of two types: those with middle- and upper-wage jobs, who make up more than half the Island's immigrants; and a smaller, but still sizable group who earn much lower wages and are "struggling."
"There are two important things to hold in your head," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the Immigrant Research Initiative and co-author of the report, "Immigrants in the Long Island Economy: Overcoming Hurdles, Yet Still Facing Barriers."
"Immigrants are mostly in middle and upper wage jobs … They are a really important part of the Long Island economy. " Kallick said. "At the same time, immigrants face real challenges in the low-wage labor market. It's more severe when we look at questions of race and gender. Those are not contradictory ideas. Mostly, immigrants are doing quite well and contributing very fully to the economy. And yet it's also true that immigrants are disproportionately struggling to make ends meet."
Updating the numbers
The study was released Tuesday and undertaken with a $25,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation, after a similar report the research initiative did on Long Island nearly a decade ago, said Sol Marie Alfonso-Jones, the foundation's senior program officer. She said the foundation wanted to "update the numbers" from the earlier report "about the economic contributions" by providing more details on wages as well as the impact and role of immigrants. "There's so much rhetoric that is uninformed about the importance of immigrants in the Long Island economy," she said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The Immigration Research Initiative did an analysis of census data from the 2021 American Community Survey five-year data to explore what kinds of jobs the immigrant community on Long Island have and where they fall in the upper, middle or lower wage income range.
- According to the report, an estimated 550,000 immigrants live on Long Island, 300,000 of whom hold full-time jobs, including about 65,000 living in the country illegally.
- The study was released Tuesday and undertaken with a $25,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation, after a similar report the research initiative did on Long Island nearly a decade ago
Officials independent of the report also noted the two categories of immigrants depicted, with some saying that dichotomy posed challenges for governments in areas like providing housing and health care aid for low-wage workers. Some pointed to the need to reform immigration policies.
According to the research group's report, an estimated 550,000 immigrants live on Long Island, comprising 19% of the Island's 2.9 million population, and 23% of the working age population, those between 16- to 64-years-old, and 23% of the labor force.
Middle and upper wages
Anthony Capote, the report's co-author and senior policy analyst at the research initiative, said of the 550,000 Long Island immigrants, 300,000 have full-time jobs. Of those, about 65,000 live in the country illegally.
Using census data from the 2021 five-year American Community Survey, the new report found that 60% of immigrants with full-time jobs earn middle- and upper wages, defined as at least $48,000, and up to $140,000. Upper wages were defined as above $140,000. According to the findings, 40% of immigrants on Long Island earn less than $48,000, with 49% in the middle wage range, and 11% in the upper range.
The "disproportionately large share of immigrants," earning less than $48,000 a year, "is a problem," Capote said, considering that the average cost of living for one person on Long Island is $52,000, and for a family of four — two adults, two children — $174,000. The overall median wage on Long Island is $70,000, which is above the national rate of $52,000, according to the report.
Service work for immigrants
Service occupations comprise the most common low-wage jobs for immigrants.
"Some 4,000 work as house cleaners, and many others work in restaurants, including 40,000 cooks, 2,000 waiters and 2,000 food preparation workers," the report said, with a median annual wage of $32,000.
The report said 10,000 more work as managers in a broad array of fields and earn middle wages ranging from $54,000 for food service managers, to $80,000 for construction managers.
Among upper-wage earners with a median wage of $140,000 or higher, 10,000 are immigrants working in the health care professions, "most often as physicians. Immigrants are, in fact, disproportionately likely to be doctors: 36 percent of the 12,000 physicians on Long Island are immigrants," the report said.
"An ideological viewpoint"
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization that seeks to limit immigration and is based in Washington, D.C., said, "Clearly there is an ideological viewpoint" in the report.
"They're trying to make the case that immigrants, as a whole, are extraordinarily beneficial to the Long Island economy. I guess what we would say is some are and some are not, like any other cohort of people." Issues such as cost needed to be considered in "formulating immigration policies," Mehlman said. There was an "underlying assumption that if immigrant [workers] weren't there, that the economic output would not be duplicated by other people … And that's not correct," he said.
Capote said that while "we're sort of seen as a left-leaning institution … we didn't come into this analysis to make an overt political point. … On one end, immigrants tend to do a lot better than we give them credit for. Yet, there is still a large swath of immigrants trapped in low-wage work. They are caring for our children, cleaning our homes … struggling to survive."
John Rizzo, an economist and Stony Brook University professor, said he found the report "plausible. It's a tale of two [kinds of] immigrants. The two different populations doesn't surprise me. But the magnitude of the difference is interesting."
Rizzo said it showed the need for "immigration reform … There's no black and white answer. There are advantages and disadvantages. It's a complicated issue. This is a nation of immigrants. I hope we can solve this problem in a way that doesn't keep people out of the country."