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"Newcomers Help Massachusetts Economy"

While immigrants have long been portrayed as representing unfair competition for American-born workers and maligned as a burden on social services, data shows that their presence is beneficial, even essential, to the economy. As these statistics from the American Immigration Law Foundation shows, foreign-born workers have been a boon to the economies of states like Massachusetts. The arrival of large numbers of immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Puerto Rico since the 1980s has provided the state with both unskilled workers eager to fill manufacturing and service positions and professionals who have become prominent in universities, engineering, and the sciences. Both ethnically and economically diverse, these "new immigrants," the article suggests, are revitalizing inner cities and keeping segments of the Massachusetts economy alive.

The image of an economically depressed New England, suffering from urban flight, closing factories, and dwindling population, has been indelibly printed on the American imagination since the 1970s. However, there is a new New England on the rise, fueled largely by immigration, that refutes the decades-old perception of a region losing ground in the modern era….

Massachusetts has always had a high percentage of immigrants among its population. In 1910, at the zenith of immigration to the U.S., 31.5 percent of all Massachusetts residents were foreign-born. This number peaked in 1920, with 1.088 million foreign-born residents living in the state. However, by 1970, the state's immigrant population, mostly retired and aging, had declined to less than 500,000 persons - less than half of the 1920 figure - and accounted for only 8.7 percent of the state's population….

In the 1980s, however, immigrants from different parts of the globe began to settle in Massachusetts. By the time of the 1990 Census, only 37 percent of Massachusetts' immigrant population had roots in Europe, contrasting with immigration before 1970, when nearly 80 percent of foreign-born residents were from Europe and Canada. The new immigrants, from Asia, Latin America, and Puerto Rico, and living both in central cities and suburban developments, helped to offset the regional population loss and contribute to the workforce….
Newcomers who have come since 1990 are more likely than earlier immigrants to have a college or advanced degree. Due in large part to the universities in Massachusetts, more of that state's foreign-born residents are more highly educated than their national counterparts.

College degree or not, the labor force participation rate of immigrants versus native-born in Massachusetts is very close. Male immigrants are actually more likely to actively participate in the labor market than their native-born counterparts, both nationally and in Massachusetts. Interestingly, immigrants who seemingly face the most hurdles to gaining employment—those with only a high school diploma or less—are actually more active in the labor force than their native-born counterparts.

Importance to Manufacturing
The mills of Massachusetts are kept humming in large part by foreign-born workers…. Immigrants are nearly twice as likely as native-born to be employed in the manufacturing industries, followed by the personal services industry, including household help, hairdressing salons and laundries….

Many Immigrants High-Skilled

Within the professional occupations, immigrants demonstrated attainment when compared to native-born professionals. Immigrants are more than twice as likely as native-born professionals to be university and college teachers. Just over 2 percent of all foreign-born workers held these positions, as opposed to less than one percent of native-born professionals. Additionally, foreign-born professionals are more likely than the native-born to be employed as engineers, physical scientists and computer scientists. The study also shows that immigrants become more upwardly mobile the longer they are in the U.S., with only 15 percent of those who had migrated to the U.S. before 1980 living below the poverty line, including the elderly, as opposed to a higher rate for immigrants who had arrived in the 1980s.


As this report clearly shows, the face of Massachusetts is changing. Its immigrant population, and thus its future citizenry, is more ethnically diverse than ever before. These "new" immigrants are also more economically diverse than previous waves of the foreign-born, keeping the manufacturing sector alive, working in the service industries, and participating in highly-skilled jobs centered around Massachusetts' many universities. The newcomers with little or no education are more likely than native-born Americans to be employed in the labor force - they clearly want to and do work. While these newcomers to Massachusetts do face challenges—and the study contains recommendations to help meet those challenges—It clearly shows that short-term pain can equal long-term gain for both the immigrants who, over time, gain parity with the native-born, and with the citizenry, who gain in revitalized central cities and in keeping certain economic sectors upon which Massachusetts depends, such as manufacturing, alive.

Source | American Immigrant Law Foundation, "Newcomers Help Massachusetts Economy," American Immigrant Law Foundation Immigrant Policy Reports,,
Creator | American Immigration Law Foundation
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Immigration Law Foundation, “"Newcomers Help Massachusetts Economy",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 3, 2023,

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