April 21, 2010

Immigrants in work force: Study belies image

By Julia Preston
New York Times

ST. LOUIS — After a career as a corporate executive with her name in brass on the office door, Amparo Kollman-Moore, an immigrant from Colombia, likes to drive a Jaguar and shop at Saks. "It was a good life," she said, "a really good ride."

As a member of this city's economic elite, Kollman-Moore is not unusual among immigrants who live in St. Louis.

According to a new analysis of census data, more than half of the working immigrants in this metropolitan area hold higher-paying white-collar jobs — as professionals, technicians or administrators — rather than lower-paying blue-collar and service jobs.
Among U.S. cities, St. Louis is not an exception, the data show. In 14 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas, including San Francisco, Boston and New York, more immigrants are employed in white-collar occupations than in lower-wage work like construction, manufacturing or cleaning.

The data belie a common perception in the nation's debate over immigration — articulated by lawmakers, pundits and advocates on all sides of the issue — that the surge in immigration in the past two decades has overwhelmed the United States with low-wage foreign laborers.

Overall, the analysis showed, the 25 million immigrants who live in the country's largest metropolitan areas (about two-thirds of all immigrants in the country) are nearly evenly distributed across the job and income spectrum.

suggests, moreover, that the immigrants played a central role in the cycle of the economic growth of cities over the past two decades.

Cities with thriving immigrant populations — with high-earning and lower-wage workers — tended to be those that prospered the most.

Surprisingly, the analysis showed, the growing cities were not the ones, like St. Louis, that drew primarily high-earning foreigners.

In fact, the St. Louis area had one of the slowest-growing economies.

Rather, the fastest economic growth from 1990 to 2008 was in cities like Atlanta, Denver and Phoenix that received large influxes of immigrants with a mix of occupations — including many in lower-paid service and blue-collar jobs.

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