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Understanding the value of immigrant labor

Magazine, Making Money

Last week in this space, Dr. Don Mathews began a series on the economic state of our rural neighbors and gave us some demographic characteristics of some of our surrounding counties. He wrote about population, unemployment, education, disability, labor force participation, income, and poverty. As we all anticipate hearing the rest of the story from Dr. Mathews, I will be careful not to steal his thunder.

But, I would like to add one statistic to last week’s list — foreign-born population.

According to the American Community Survey, in 2017:

• Glynn County was home to 4,632 foreign-born individuals, 5.5 percent of Glynn County’s total population.

• Camden County had a foreign-born population of 2,100, 4 percent of Camden’s total population.

• Wayne County had 878 foreign-born residents, 3 percent of its population.

• And foreign-born individuals made up less than 2 percent of the populations of each of Brantley and McIntosh Counties.

For Georgia and the U.S. as a whole, this statistic is larger. Nearly 10 percent of Georgia’s residents in 2017 were foreign-born, compared with 13.2 percent for the U.S.

These statistics use the Census Bureau’s definition of foreign-born, which refers to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen at birth. So, as best we can count, these numbers include naturalized U.S. citizens, long-term or temporary legal residents, refugees, and immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally.

These days, we find ourselves in the midst of a heated national debate not only on the future of immigration policy, but also on the future of many immigrants’ lives and families.

 I wanted to cite the statistics above to help localize the story a bit. A significant number of immigrants live among us here in Southeast Georgia.

Not only do they live among us, but they also contribute to our economy. In fact, the foreign-born population in the U.S. has a higher labor-force participation rate and lower unemployment rate than the native-born population.

We were given a peek at the value of foreign-born workers to our local economy last year when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) arrested dozens of undocumented immigrants in Glynn County, causing a chain reaction of labor shortages throughout the area as other immigrants, documented or not, failed to report to work for fear of arrest.

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