In early 2009, economic researchers from three of the regions largest universities joined forces to answer a question that befuddles politicians, voters and business owners alike.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
Economic boon or burden, what is the impact of legal and illegal immigration to Missouri and Kansas?
Too often, the reply is backed by emotion, not facts.
Now we have two studies one for Kansas and one for Missouri. Both will be released at noon Tuesday at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce boardroom at Union Station.
Having well-reasoned, fact-based information can help, said Ramon Murguia, a Kansas City attorney who helped initiate the project as chairman of the advisory board of the Hispanic Development Fund, an affiliate of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The foundation commissioned the studies.
The information is highly detailed, sliced and diced into many categories and based on economic assessments for differing industries. It is not for people looking for simple answers.
However, some findings and conclusions might be surprising the wide of range of originating countries in Missouri, industries that would have trouble filling jobs without immigrant labor and the conclusion that in both states, undocumented immigrants pay for the state services they use with the tax revenue directly generated by their jobs.
The economists also are forthcoming on the limits of the data, and how each state differs and mimics national trends.
Those who seek to understand immigrant populations from a variety of measures will welcome the information. The studies look at direct, indirect and induced effects of various immigrant categories in relation to unemployment, jobs, poverty levels, education costs, and federal, state and local taxes generated and what would happen if the immigrants werent present.
And yes, a special emphasis is given to undocumented people, as they are the focus of much legislative action and public interest.
When the project began, its organizers couldnt have fathomed that the release of their findings would coincide with a federal push to overhaul immigration law. And unlike congressional attempts in recent years, this one shows promise for changes to current systems.
The so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, have drafted an outline of what they hope to accomplish. Hopes are high.
Which makes it even more imperative that people have accurate information to form views.
What makes economies vital in my point of view is people with different skills and mindsets, Murguia said. We see what happens when that occurs. It has always been the American experience.
The research projects were led by Peter Eaton of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, along with John C. Leatherman, a professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, and Joshua L. Rosenbloom, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas. Eaton, also an economics professor, is the director of UMKCs Center for Economic Information.
The economists looked only at first-generation immigrants and broke much of the data into categories of all immigrants, immigrants from Mexico and Central America and those who are undocumented. In many cases, they compared those groups the jobs they hold, their education level and taxes paid with native-born people.
The reports show marked differences between Kansas and Missouri, and some similarities.
In Missouri, immigrants as a whole pay slightly less state and local taxes per capita than do non-immigrants. In Kansas, immigrants pay slightly more in local and state taxes.
In Kansas, immigration is directly responsible for 7 to 8 percent of the economy. The percentages rise to 12.8 percent to 14.4 percent when indirect and induced effects are included.
For Missouri, the figures are 4 percent of the economy directly and 7.6 to 8.8 percent in the broader category.
Every job held by an immigrant, on average, equates to nearly one additional job created in Kansas and more than one job in Missouri.
Immigrants are responsible for almost all of the recent population growth in both states. In other words, both Missouri and Kansas might be losing population if not for immigrants. And the people arriving are primarily young men.
The immigrant men coming to Missouri are far more representative of the globe, arriving from many countries.
Missouri saw more immigrants arriving from Asian countries in 2010 than it did from Mexico and Central America. And there were nearly as many first-generation immigrants coming from Europe as from Mexico and Central America.
In Kansas, the migrants are primarily young men from Mexico or a Central American country.
In Kansas, the arrival of illegal immigrants has slowed in recent years, following a national trend. The opposite is true in Missouri.
Work, long the draw for generations of immigrants, still leads as a driving factor.
In both states, immigrants are overrepresented as highly skilled workers and as the lowest skilled. They tend to be concentrated at both ends of the spectrum, separated by education attainment levels when compared with native-born people. In Missouri, physician and computer software programmer are among the top occupations for immigrant men.
Yet the costs of educating U.S.-born children of immigrants, kindergarten to 12th grade in public schools, is much larger than the cost of educating immigrant children in general.
Also true in both states, each dollar of state and local tax revenue generated by the average immigrant job results in more than an additional dollar of state and local taxes, the studies concluded.
Yet for all the attention given to the topic, immigrants remain a relatively small portion of both states.
They were 3.9 percent of the population in Missouri in 2010. A little less than one quarter were from Mexico or Central America.
For Kansas, immigrants were 6.4 percent of the population in 2010. And over half of them were from Mexico or Central America.
Some of the state-to-state differences can be attributed to refugee populations and what type of businesses are drawing these laborers.
Murguia is highly aware that concerns about undocumented immigration is what pushes lawmakers to act. Yet too often, the understanding that new laws also negatively affect legal immigrants from all countries is discounted.
As an example, he points to efforts to make drivers license information and tests English-only. Foreign students, consul officials and people with highly technical skills in the states on work visas are affected as well. Broader understandings of those categories of immigrants can be found within the data.
We wanted to get hard facts out for these legislators to consider when they are looking at these potential laws that will impact immigrants, Murguia said.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.