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Report notes LI immigrants' economic contributions

Immigrants on Long Island contribute to the economy in direct proportion to their share of the population with nearly 30 percent working in professional and white-collar jobs, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Foreign-born residents make up 16 percent of Long Island's population and produce 18 percent of its total economic output - defined as the sum of all earnings - in line with the national average. Additionally, they are more likely to be of working age, comprising 21 percent of the labor force, according to the report compiled by the liberal Manhattan-based think tank.

Based on 2005 to 2007 American Communities Survey data from the U.S. Census, the report includes all foreign-born residents - undocumented and documented, as well as citizens.

"What really jumps out is that immigrants are contributing in equal proportion to their share of the population," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the Institute's Immigration Research Initiative. "Although it is true that there is a higher concentration of immigrants in lower-wage jobs, that is far from the whole story. There are quite a lot of immigrants working as doctors and health care professionals and in other skilled professions."

Locally, immigrants make up 22 percent of professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, and 26 percent of other health professionals, the report says.

Though undocumented immigrants can't be separated in the data, Kallick said estimates are that one in five immigrants on Long Island are undocumented.

Martin Cantor, director of Dowling College's Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute, questioned the extent to which the study included undocumented immigrants, saying census data does not effectively count them. "We can't assume any significance to the contribution of undocumented immigrants in this report," Cantor said. "You can't put your finger on it."

That, and the fact the study did not take into account the cost of government services to immigrants or the economic impact of immigrants sending money home were crucial missing elements, he said.

Kallick said researchers generally agree undocumented immigrants are undercounted in the census by about 10 to 15 percent, and agreed it would be appropriate to include money immigrants spend on remittances, saying that would probably reduce their economic contribution. But, he said, "I would be surprised if it changed the picture very much."

Other experts said the study highlighted the critical role immigrants play in the economy - especially in a region that is losing its native-born working population.

"What this study underscores is that Long Island's economy is already being substantially supported by immigration and I think that would be a surprise to an awful lot of native-born Long Islanders," said Matthew T. Crosson, president of the Long Island Association, the area's largest business group.

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