'Diversity clearly our strength': Wayne Co. touts contributions of immigrants

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — A study released Wednesday shows the economic impact and contributions of immigrants in Wayne County was more than $10.5 billion in 2017.

The report found that immigrants make up more than 20% of all STEM field workers, 17% of transportation workers and 15% of manufacturing workers and that after taxes, immigrants in Wayne county have a spending power of $3.2 billion.

A sign welcoming immigrants at Pizza Plex in southwest Detroit.

The report also said between 2012 and 2017, the immigrant population increased by 24% when the overall population decreased by 2.2%. 

Wayne County was chosen as one of 14 recipients of New American Economy's Gateways for Growth Award to conduct detailed research in partnership with Wayne United and the Wayne County Executive's Office. The study offered a breakdown of immigrant's financial contributions and how they helped to offset population losses in the county.

The full report was released Wednesday by the county during a press conference at the Hamtramck Historical Museum. Officials said the report highlights contributions that immigrants are making in industries vital to the county's economy.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said the research was conducted to raise awareness about the "key roles immigrants play across economic sectors in our communities."

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans speaks on the immigrant study at the Hamtramck Historical Museum Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019.

"Diversity is clearly our strength," Evans said at the press conference. "Without a doubt, the immigrant population in Wayne County is much more of a benefit to this state then even we imagined early on. It completely refutes the idea that somehow it's problematic."

Approximately 164,442 immigrants lived in Wayne County in 2017, making up 9.4% of the total population. The county's population is 1.7 million, making it the largest county in the state and 19th most populous in the United States.

The top five countries of origin of immigrants relocating to Wayne County are Yemen, Mexico, India, Lebanon and Bangladesh, according to the report.

Between 2012 and 2017, the immigrant population in the county increased by 24.1%.

Other data the report included:

  • Because of the growing community, 7,500 manufacturing jobs were preserved.
  • Immigrants make up 16.3% of the county's business owners and entrepreneurs.
  •  About 77% of immigrants lived in houses and 63.5% of them owned their homes, compared to 61% of U.S.-born households.
  • In terms of health coverage, 47.5% of immigrants in the county received Medicare or Medicaid compared to 47.7% of U.S.-born residents in 2017.

"What we're seeing in Wayne County definitely reflects what we're seeing across the nation where immigrants are driving economic growth locally," said Kate Brick, director of State and Local Initiatives at New American Economy. "Had it not been for the immigrant population increasing by 24% over the period we looked at, the decline in the county's population would have been even greater, falling by 3.9%."

The study found during 2017, immigrants were more likely to have a bachelor's degree or higher in both Wayne County and Michigan.

Brick said she was not surprised to see immigrants over-represented in STEM fields, making up a fifth of all STEM workers.

"They're coming in with all types of backgrounds and experience when we're facing a shortage of STEM workers in Michigan and it's driving more growth into the field," she said. "Same goes for entrepreneurs who are almost double the share of their population, 16% are business owners, and that really goes to show that they're revitalizing local economies, establishing roots and employing those in the community."

Immigrants contributed more than $730 million in federal taxes and $346 million to state and local taxes. In addition, they contributed $430.5 million to Social Security and $110.6 million to Medicare in 2017.

►Read more: Freedom Village, a safe haven for refugees, planned in Hamtramck

The study also focused on naturalization, determining that 54% of the county's immigrants were naturalized and 8% were refugees. 

Among immigrants, nearly 18% (29,000) were undocumented in the county in 2017, the county estimates. About 30% of the undocumented workforce is employed in the manufacturing industry.

"In reality, most of the immigrants and refugees that come to this country bring a lot of value ... and are good citizens," Evans said. "Whatever your preconceived notions are, they're not correct. The data speaks for itself."

A similar report on southeast Michigan was released in October 2017, which determined refugees contributed more than $230 million to the region in a decade.

Claudya Arana Sanchez, global diversity and inclusion manager of Ford Motor Co., shared her immigrant success story, saying "diversity makes us stronger."

Sanchez grew up in Guatemala sitting beside her father as he fixed vehicles. By 12 years old, she knew she wanted to be an engineer. When she graduated high school, her father objected and encouraged her to be a doctor.

She was 19 when she told her father she wasn't going to sacrifice her happiness and, without knowing English or having any family in the United States, she moved to Chicago and enrolled in community college. Sanchez was later chosen for a National Science Foundation fellowship for graduate school. When she graduated in 2005, she joined Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn.

"After moving up, I called my father and asked him what his favorite car is and that maybe I'll buy it for him one day," she said. 

Sanchez said the diverse communities in Chicago and Dearborn are what helped her thrive. Now, she and her husband are closing on their third home and are proud to have two teen children.

"We need to figure out how do we make sure that our businesses and communities are prepared and build that inclusive culture that we all need in order to succeed," Sanchez said.

Brick said the county was chosen not only because of its large immigrant population but because of their leadership and commitment to welcoming immigrants.

The study was released ahead of the 12th annual National Immigrant Integration Conference held Sunday through Tuesday at the TCF Center in Detroit.

"The more we embrace immigrant integration the better we’ll be to reaching our full potential as a county, state and country," said Evans, who will be speaking at the conference Monday morning. "I’m looking forward to bringing Wayne County’s diversity story to this national stage."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_