Immigrants boost Oregon’s economy, even as they confront challenges

Immigrants boost Oregon’s economy, even as they confront challenges

Immigrants boost Oregon’s economy, even as they confront challenges

News Release

Immigrants generate a bigger share of Oregon’s economic output relative to their share of the population, according to a new study published by the Immigration Research Initiative (IRI).

Although immigrants make up 10 percent of Oregon’s population, they account for 13 percent of the state’s economic output, the study found in its analysis of Census Bureau data. The main reason is that immigrants are more likely to be of working age and participate in the labor force compared to U.S.-born Oregonians. 

“Immigrants are a large and important part of Oregon’s economy, contributing in all industries and at all levels of the payscale,” said Anthony Capote, Senior Policy Analyst at IRI. “It is to the benefit of the state to recognize the economic contributions of immigrants.”

About two-thirds of immigrants in Oregon earn middle wages or higher, the report found. It also noted that a slightly higher share of immigrants (17 percent) are in the upper wage group than native-born Oregonians (16 percent). 

Nevertheless, immigrants face significant challenges, as they are overrepresented at the lower-end of the payscale. The report said that 33 percent of immigrants earn low wages, compared to 24 percent of native-born workers. In raw numbers, of the 280,000 Oregonians working in low-wage jobs, about 50,000 are immigrants and just over 227,000 are U.S.-born.

The report said that immigrants who labor in low-wage jobs face many barriers, such as language, educational attainment, recognition of credentials, immigration status, and discrimination in the workplace.

Another challenge is that many immigrants lack the right to organize in the workplace that other workers enjoy, said Alejandro Queral, Executive Director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. The protections of the National Labor Relations Act do not extend to workers in agriculture or domestic work — industries that disproportionately rely on immigrants. Queral called on the Oregon legislature to provide a state right to organize to farmworkers and domestic workers.

“Whether it’s growing or harvesting the food we eat, caring for our children and our parents, or performing other vital tasks, immigrants keep our society and economy going,” Queral, said. “The COVID emergency highlighted just how essential the work of immigrants is. That’s a lesson all Oregonians, but especially lawmakers, need to keep in mind at a time of rising xenophobia.”

The Immigration Research Initiative (IRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank on immigrant integration, looks at issues of economic, social, and cultural inclusion of immigrants in the United States. Read the report Immigrants in the Oregon Economy: Overcoming Hurdles, Yet Still Facing Barriers.

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Written by staff at the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

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