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Old 11-30-2009, 12:40 PM
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Default Inland area more dependent on immigrant labor

Inland area more dependent on immigrant labor, study says
The Press-Enterprise
The Inland area is more dependent on immigrant labor than most other large U.S. urban areas, a new study concludes.
The report, by the Latham, N.Y.-based Fiscal Policy Institute, also revealed that although foreign-born workers are more likely to be concentrated in low-paying occupations than native-born people, they represent an increasing share of high-earning, highly skilled professionals, such as nurses and engineers.
The study found that 22 percent of people living in Riverside and San Bernardino counties between 2005 and 2007 were foreign-born, but they comprised 29 percent of civilian workers at least 16 years old.
The difference was less pronounced in most of the other regions the study analyzed. In the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, 24 percent of the labor force and 20 percent of the population was born abroad.
Immigrants are disproportionately represented in the work force because they are more likely to be of working age than native-born counterparts, said the principal author of the report, David Dyssegaard Kallick.
An immigration expert and associate professor of political science at UC Riverside, Karthick Ramakrishnan said the bigger gap in the Inland area is probably because Riverside and San Bernardino counties recently became immigration magnets, in part because of an increase in construction and other growth-related jobs before the recession hit.
"The Inland Empire is a newer destination than other metropolitan areas, so you're less likely to have (immigrant) seniors who are outside the work force," he said.
Longtime immigrant port-of-entry regions such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami had a larger proportion of foreign-born workers than the Inland area in 2005-07, but those metropolitan areas' immigrant labor forces grew less rapidly in the 1990s and early- and mid-2000s than the Inland area's.
The report was based upon an analysis of U.S. Census estimates. The census does not ask respondents' immigration status.
The study released Sunday found foreign-born people had a big presence in occupations that in the past were not associated with immigrants. In the Inland area, a third of nurses, pharmacists and health therapists were immigrants, as were more than 18 percent of executives and managers.
The study also looked at economic output, which it defined as the wages of workers and the earnings of businesses. Immigrants had a bigger share of the economic output -- 25 percent -- of the Inland area than they did in most other metropolitan areas.
Esmael Adibi, chief economist at Chapman University in Orange, said that reflects the huge number of construction jobs in the Inland area during the boom years. Nearly 44 percent of Inland construction workers were immigrants, the study found.
"Construction jobs typically pay much more than other service jobs that immigrants typically take," such as restaurant and hotel positions, Adibi said.
The U.S. Census data analyzed in the report was compiled before the Inland economy went into freefall.
Adibi said the numbers would be different if a snapshot were taken today, after many construction and other immigrant-heavy jobs disappeared.
During the time when the study's data was collected, immigrants were vital in ensuring the Inland area's rapid growth, said Paul Herrera, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Economic Development Agency.
"Traditionally when unemployment is low, they are very beneficial," he said. "They come in and pick up jobs that would be left unfilled."
With Inland unemployment now at 14.6 percent, immigrants' impact is uncertain, especially because it's unclear how many have left the Inland area to seek work elsewhere, he said.
The Fiscal Policy Institute focuses on tax, budget and economic issues. Some of the funding for the study came from a New York-based local of the Service Employees International Union, which supports liberalization of immigration laws.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors greater restrictions on immigration, said immigrants' representation throughout the U.S. economy doesn't change the need to tighten immigration laws.
"Yes, immigrants aren't just picking tomatoes and hanging drywall," he said. "They're a huge population of almost 40 million and they do a lot of different things ... But their small economic benefit is completely wiped out by the larger social-service costs."
Although some immigrants are well-educated, a much larger number -- especially illegal immigrants -- have a low level of schooling and skills, he said.
Krikorian emphasized the cost to provide health care, education and other benefits to immigrants and their offspring.
Ramakrishnan said immigrants, because they are more likely to be working than U.S.-born residents, are key to providing tax revenue for Social Security and Medicare.
Kallick said the U.S. economy's reliance on foreign-born workers illustrates how changes in immigration law need to be considered carefully during a recession.
"If you create a climate that discourages immigration in broad strokes, it's putting at risk an important part of a fragile economy," he said.
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