By Simon Templar
Immigration and immigrants are great for New York City (and America). So despite of what politicians, anti-immigrant hacks on cable television, and uninformed, ignorant bloggers and Tweeters tell you immigrants, especially immigrant businesses, are key economic engines for America’s third largest city. And the numbers are both eye-popping and impressive.
Today, in New York City there are 288, 737 small and medium-sized immigrant businesses that brought in a whopping $6.13 billion in annual revenues. When you understand that 4.5 million of New York residents were born abroad, no one, only the chronically uninformed, would conclude that this dynamic and thriving community has not improved, contributed to and enhanced New York City.
These statistics also point to the undisputed facts that immigrants are not all takers, welfare queens, and lazy free loaders. And too, immigrants are not waiting for handouts – 496,928 people are employed by firms owned by immigrants. If you thought that this is just about immigrants working in a limited economic setting, then guess again. Here’s the icing on the economic cake: More than half – 56% – of Fortune 500 companies based in New York City were founded by immigrants or their children. But wait! Here’s the kicker – Those firms generated $787.2 billion in annual revenues and employed about 1.8 million people (1,771,183) globally.
And it’s not just in the formal economy that New York City’s immigrant population is driving, thriving and striding. One measure of upward mobility is home ownership. Here again New York City’s immigrant communities have been excelling, outstripping and outpacing native born communities. Today, there are over 712,013 immigrant homeowners in New York City generating a collective wealth of $378.1 billion. Renters also contribute heavily to the local economy paying just over $1.5 billion dollars annually. Thing is that for the undocumented immigrant population this is “taxation without representation” since they are not allowed to access entitlement programs like unemployment benefits and healthcare.
Undocumented and indeed all immigrants also pay sales taxes and other fees and many have been singing the praises of New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio whose Administration has instituted a local City Identity Card that allow the undocumented (and any New Yorker) to open bank accounts, get library cards, and access other services that demand and warrant a identification card. There is also political rumblings about revisiting the Drivers License for undocumented, and allowing Green Card holders (legal immigrants) to vote in local city and state elections.
There is absolutely no doubt that New York City, a so-called “sanctuary city,” is a haven for immigrants who shape the character and socio-economic fabric of the city in many different ways. And just as legal immigrants contribute to the city’s growth and development we cannot ignore the undocumented population now numbering north of 886,983 (estimate). Do not for one moment think that this large group of undocumented immigrants is “takers” as many conservative pundits keep braying about. For example, there are now over 86,503 undocumented entrepreneurs in New York City generating $1.6 billion in annual revenues.
So exactly what is the economic power of New York City’s undocumented population? Well, we do not have updated data for 2019. The last year all of this was tabulated was 2014 – 5 years ago. Let’s review the stats that paint a completely different picture about the undocumented in New York. They are not running around “raping, doing drugs, and committing crimes.” True, a very, very tiny number of them do get into trouble with the law but by and large immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, commit far fewer crimes when compared to the native born population and are most unlikely to report crimes perpetuated against them for fear of deportation.
For example, the booming construction industry is full of unscrupulous contractors and sub-contractors that routinely cheat, steal and abuse undocumented immigrants without redress. They pay them far less – off the books – for hard, backbreaking, and sustained labor than legitimate Green Card holders and citizens. These construction workers are at their mercy because they are not unionized, are not paid prevailing wages, have no insurance, and are easy to fire and hire for barely livable “slave pittances.” These contractors leeches have grown rich off of the almost free labor oftentimes holding the threat of ratting them out to the immigration authorities to coerce, compel and force them to work.
There is also sexual abuse of undocumented immigrant women doing “sleeping in jobs” and nannies, cooks and home workers for long hours without over time pay. They are at the mercy of predatory employers who threaten them with reporting them to immigration to again force compliance. Then there is the retail produce industry that is riddled with especially Mexican undocumented immigrants who work very long hours, with very little breaks for way below average wages. This situation is prevalent and particularly found in Koran and Chinese retail produce and grocery stores in Brooklyn and Queens.
However, undocumented immigrants in New York earned a total of $18.3 billion (2014). They paid $1.0 billion in state and local taxes while $1.6 billion went to pay federal taxes. That left a whopping $15.8 billion in undocumented immigrant spending power. The bottom line is that New York is an immigrant rich state. Today, New York is home to nearly 4.5 million immigrants, the third largest number of foreign-born residents in the country, surpassed only by California and Texas. New York’s large and diverse immigrant community and its historical ties to America’s immigration history are just two reasons why the Empire State is known as a place where people from all over the world come to build new lives and grab a piece of the American Dream.