Immigrants: Fueling Maine’s Economy

The nonpartisan, New-York-based Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) reports that rather than being a drag on our economy, immigrants actually help grow it and by remarkably large amounts. FPI’s findings support MECEP’s own research that Maine’s Asian and Latino populations are critical to our future global economic competitiveness.

Yet, actions by the Governor and Legislature put immigrants on an unequal footing as they try to live and do business here.

For example:

Governor LePage acted swiftly following his inauguration to rescind prohibitions on state welfare workers asking applicants about  their immigration status, with the stated purpose of denying undocumented immigrants social service benefits.  The policy unfairly targets hardworking legal immigrants.

State budget cuts have resulted in 500 legal immigrants losing MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid program) coverage, including a German immigrant dying of cancer. This is discriminatory and may be unconstitutional as well.

Recent tax changes also unduly hurt Maine’s immigrant populations. The Governor and Legislature gave income tax breaks to Maine’s wealthiest individuals at the expense of low- and middle-income taxpayers, where the majority of immigrants, many small  business owners, fall.

These state policies clearly run counter to the growing body of research that demonstrates the importance of immigrants in the workforce. FPI found that 30 percent of recent small business growth in the U.S. is due to immigrants, writing:

Immigrant small business owners contribute to economic growth, to employment, and to producing the goods and services that support our standard of living. Immigrants bring ideas, connections to new markets, and a spirit of entrepreneurship with them to the United States.

Data show that, in 2007, Maine’s 1,043 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $284 million and employed 2,543 people. If that were one company, it would be one of the fifteen largest employers in Maine.

In 2007, there were 979 Hispanic-owned businesses in Maine, pumping $163 million into the state’s economy. This represents an amount more than six times what the Maine Turnpike Authority wants for toll increases.

Responding to FPI’s findings, MECEP Executive Director Garrett Martin said:

In communities throughout Maine, minorities, including immigrants, are opening new businesses, hiring new employees, and making new investments that are contributing to and strengthening local economies.

Maine’s business leaders agree. Last year, they cautioned state leaders that they depend on immigrants to fill job vacancies theycouldn’t otherwise fill and that anti-immigrant policies were not helping them.

A recent Lewiston Sun Journal editorial noted that immigrants are critical to our economic future:

As our native-born population ages, and as the U.S. birth rate declines, our economic self-interest depends upon welcoming young, ambitious, talented students and workers from abroad.

Instead of disparaging immigrants Maine should be doing all it can to welcome and attract people of all ethnic and national origins to benefit the economy.