Has New York City Gotten an Economic Boost From Its Immigrants?

New York's Mayor Bloomberg recently stated that "'opening the doors to all who want to come here and work' is a cost-free way to help the economy quickly."

Any discussion of immigrants and economic growth by Mayor Bloomberg needs to start with this fact: of all the cities in the U.S., New York has gained the most immigrants since 1990.  New York's experience gives us an excellent, real-life laboratory for testing the thesis that immigration boosts the economy. 

The first two sanctuary cities in the U.S. were Chicago and New York.  Chicago's policy started with an executive order issued by Mayor Harold Washingtoni in March 1985, and New York's began shortly thereafter, in October 1985 with a memo issued by Mayor Ed Koch ordering all city agencies to make benefits available to residents regardless of immigration statusii.  Mayor Koch formalized the Sanctuary policy with Executive Order 124, issued August 7, 1989.

Following these executive orders, the illegal immigration populations exploded throughout the U.S.  Eighty-eight percent of illegal immigrants arrived after 1990iii.

In 2004, the New York City Dept. of City Planning published a report called "The Newest New Yorkers: 2000."  The report documents the movement of immigrants to the city.  By 1990, NYC had 2.9 million foreign-born residents, out of a total population of 8 millioniv.  By 2010, New York's foreign-born had increased to 3 million, or 36.8% of the city population and 21.7% of the state total population.

If immigrants boosted the economy, as Mayor Bloomberg claims, one would expect New York City to already be booming.  In reality, a report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that foreign-born workers have taken jobs from native-born workers both during and after the Recession of 2008.  So immigrants are not helping the economy; they are hurting it.

The Pew study, published in 2010, looked at the unemployment and employment rates of immigrants in the U.S.  Fortunately, it did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, so these figures apply to the same broad group of immigrants Mayor Bloomberg wants to see come into the U.S.

The conclusions were rather startling: the Pew Center found that from 2009 to 2010, white native-born workers lost 986,000 jobs, but foreign-born white immigrants gained 214,000 jobs.   Consequently, the unemployment rate of the foreign-born fell from 7.0% to 6.3%vi while that of the native-born increased.  So roughly one of every five native-born white American workers lost their job to a foreign-born white worker.  Native-born blacks also lost jobs to foreign-born blacksvii.  And even native-born Hispanics lost their jobs to foreign born-Hispanics.  All of the gains of Hispanic job-holders in this recovery year went only to the foreign-born Hispanics: they gained 435,000 jobsviii

As far as immigrants being "cost-free," it is difficult to imagine how the mayor can arrive at this conclusion.  The Center for Immigration Studies repeatedly publishes studies that reveal the high cost of illegal immigration to taxpayers.

Each Mexican family in the city of Chicago costs taxpayers $69,000 per yearix, mostly in education costs.  The number of benefits received by illegal immigrants is outrageous: the Center for Immigration Studies found that they received 25 different benefits in 2002.  The result is that every illegal household in 2002 created an annual deficit of $2,700.  Today those benefits are far more costly.

In addition to those benefits given to migrants and refugees, NYC also gains federal dollars for every "resident" regardless of citizenship status.  A Brookings Institution study called "Counting for Billions" reported that the New York Metro area receives $2,117 in block grants for every resident.  In addition, the Cato Institute found that the city of New York spends $26,900 on every public school student, whether he or she is a citizen or not.  This public school bill creates a tax burden for local, county, and federal education sources.

If immigrants boosted economic growth, one can legitimately ask why the number of jobs in New York City grew only 1.5% from July 2011 to July 2012 -- this growth being only slightly higher than the nation's job growth rate of 1.4%.  This occurred while New York City had the benefit of 3 million economy-boosting immigrants.

All of the data contradict the idea that immigration creates economic growth.  The "Newest New Yorkers" 2000 study found that the majority of manufacturing jobs were taken over by the foreign-born: by 2000, while the foreign-born made up just 43% of all workers, they held 64% of the manufacturing jobs and 58% of the construction jobs in the city.  New Yorkers are losing jobs not just to automation and China, but also to foreign-born workers who move into NYC.

The idea that immigrants are needed to work might be more credible if the country needed workers.  However, the U.S. is now suffering under the longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression, and it would be difficult to make the case that immigrants are needed to fill job vacancies.  All of these facts point to the situation in NYC, which proves that workers are not needed.

If Mayor Bloomberg wishes to make the case that immigrants will give a boost to the economy, he has undertaken a very formidable challenge, since New York City has the highest number of immigrants of any metropolitan area yet shows no signs of stronger job or economic growth than any other area of the United States. 

Since immigrants have moved not just to New York City, but rather to the entire country, one can legitimately ask not only if their presence in fact does not boost the economy -- since the economy has failed to create new jobs -- but whether their huge demand upon public resources inhibits economic growth.    

The data from both New York City and the nation seem to indicate that immigrants do not boost the economy, nor are they cost-free. 


Executive Order 85-1, Harold Washington, Mayor, March 7, 1985.  See Bargo, M.  Mexicago: How the Chicago political machine created sanctuary policy to exploit immigrants and grow government. Vol. 2, Exhibit 1.  Ebook, kindle edition sold on Amazon.

ii  New York Times, October 15, 1985.

iii  The High Cost of Cheap Labor, Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget.  Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, D.C., 2004, 1-881290-43-3, p. 14.

iv The Newest New Yorkers, "The Newest New Yorkers 2000: Immigrant New York in the New Millennium."  Briefing Booklet, NYC Dept. of City Planning, Oct. 2004, DCP#04-09, p. 5.

v After the great recession: Foreign born gain jobs; Native born lose jobs.  Pew Hispanic Center, Oct. 29, 2010, p. 6.

vi  Id., p. 6.

vii  Id., p. 5.

viii Bargo, Mexicago, Vol. I, p. 215.

ix  Newest New Yorkers, p. 37.

New York's Mayor Bloomberg recently stated that "'opening the doors to all who want to come here and work' is a cost-free way to help the economy quickly."

Any discussion of immigrants and economic growth by Mayor Bloomberg needs to start with this fact: of all the cities in the U.S., New York has gained the most immigrants since 1990.  New York's experience gives us an excellent, real-life laboratory for testing the thesis that immigration boosts the economy. 

The first two sanctuary cities in the U.S. were Chicago and New York.  Chicago's policy started with an executive order issued by Mayor Harold Washingtoni in March 1985, and New York's began shortly thereafter, in October 1985 with a memo issued by Mayor Ed Koch ordering all city agencies to make benefits available to residents regardless of immigration statusii.  Mayor Koch formalized the Sanctuary policy with Executive Order 124, issued August 7, 1989.

Following these executive orders, the illegal immigration populations exploded throughout the U.S.  Eighty-eight percent of illegal immigrants arrived after 1990iii.

In 2004, the New York City Dept. of City Planning published a report called "The Newest New Yorkers: 2000."  The report documents the movement of immigrants to the city.  By 1990, NYC had 2.9 million foreign-born residents, out of a total population of 8 millioniv.  By 2010, New York's foreign-born had increased to 3 million, or 36.8% of the city population and 21.7% of the state total population.

If immigrants boosted the economy, as Mayor Bloomberg claims, one would expect New York City to already be booming.  In reality, a report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that foreign-born workers have taken jobs from native-born workers both during and after the Recession of 2008.  So immigrants are not helping the economy; they are hurting it.

The Pew study, published in 2010, looked at the unemployment and employment rates of immigrants in the U.S.  Fortunately, it did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, so these figures apply to the same broad group of immigrants Mayor Bloomberg wants to see come into the U.S.

The conclusions were rather startling: the Pew Center found that from 2009 to 2010, white native-born workers lost 986,000 jobs, but foreign-born white immigrants gained 214,000 jobs.   Consequently, the unemployment rate of the foreign-born fell from 7.0% to 6.3%vi while that of the native-born increased.  So roughly one of every five native-born white American workers lost their job to a foreign-born white worker.  Native-born blacks also lost jobs to foreign-born blacksvii.  And even native-born Hispanics lost their jobs to foreign born-Hispanics.  All of the gains of Hispanic job-holders in this recovery year went only to the foreign-born Hispanics: they gained 435,000 jobsviii

As far as immigrants being "cost-free," it is difficult to imagine how the mayor can arrive at this conclusion.  The Center for Immigration Studies repeatedly publishes studies that reveal the high cost of illegal immigration to taxpayers.

Each Mexican family in the city of Chicago costs taxpayers $69,000 per yearix, mostly in education costs.  The number of benefits received by illegal immigrants is outrageous: the Center for Immigration Studies found that they received 25 different benefits in 2002.  The result is that every illegal household in 2002 created an annual deficit of $2,700.  Today those benefits are far more costly.

In addition to those benefits given to migrants and refugees, NYC also gains federal dollars for every "resident" regardless of citizenship status.  A Brookings Institution study called "Counting for Billions" reported that the New York Metro area receives $2,117 in block grants for every resident.  In addition, the Cato Institute found that the city of New York spends $26,900 on every public school student, whether he or she is a citizen or not.  This public school bill creates a tax burden for local, county, and federal education sources.

If immigrants boosted economic growth, one can legitimately ask why the number of jobs in New York City grew only 1.5% from July 2011 to July 2012 -- this growth being only slightly higher than the nation's job growth rate of 1.4%.  This occurred while New York City had the benefit of 3 million economy-boosting immigrants.

All of the data contradict the idea that immigration creates economic growth.  The "Newest New Yorkers" 2000 study found that the majority of manufacturing jobs were taken over by the foreign-born: by 2000, while the foreign-born made up just 43% of all workers, they held 64% of the manufacturing jobs and 58% of the construction jobs in the city.  New Yorkers are losing jobs not just to automation and China, but also to foreign-born workers who move into NYC.

The idea that immigrants are needed to work might be more credible if the country needed workers.  However, the U.S. is now suffering under the longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression, and it would be difficult to make the case that immigrants are needed to fill job vacancies.  All of these facts point to the situation in NYC, which proves that workers are not needed.

If Mayor Bloomberg wishes to make the case that immigrants will give a boost to the economy, he has undertaken a very formidable challenge, since New York City has the highest number of immigrants of any metropolitan area yet shows no signs of stronger job or economic growth than any other area of the United States. 

Since immigrants have moved not just to New York City, but rather to the entire country, one can legitimately ask not only if their presence in fact does not boost the economy -- since the economy has failed to create new jobs -- but whether their huge demand upon public resources inhibits economic growth.    

The data from both New York City and the nation seem to indicate that immigrants do not boost the economy, nor are they cost-free. 


Executive Order 85-1, Harold Washington, Mayor, March 7, 1985.  See Bargo, M.  Mexicago: How the Chicago political machine created sanctuary policy to exploit immigrants and grow government. Vol. 2, Exhibit 1.  Ebook, kindle edition sold on Amazon.

ii  New York Times, October 15, 1985.

iii  The High Cost of Cheap Labor, Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget.  Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, D.C., 2004, 1-881290-43-3, p. 14.

iv The Newest New Yorkers, "The Newest New Yorkers 2000: Immigrant New York in the New Millennium."  Briefing Booklet, NYC Dept. of City Planning, Oct. 2004, DCP#04-09, p. 5.

v After the great recession: Foreign born gain jobs; Native born lose jobs.  Pew Hispanic Center, Oct. 29, 2010, p. 6.

vi  Id., p. 6.

vii  Id., p. 5.

viii Bargo, Mexicago, Vol. I, p. 215.

ix  Newest New Yorkers, p. 37.