A new study recently released by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs took a hard look at the benefits of immigrants supplementing the aging workforce in the heartland.
The study found that over the past decade, the arrival of immigrants in the Midwest has helped to offset the declining number of native-born people in the Midwest metropolitan areas. The study found that this was particularly critical for the workforce population between the ages of 35-44. This age group had declined over the past decade by 1.4 million.
Seventy-one metropolitan areas in the Midwest were looked at in the study, including Fort Wayne. In the past decade the growth rate for immigrants has climbed to 27 percent in Midwest metro areas. In some areas of the Midwest, growth in the native-born population is a negative number; for example, the study notes, Anderson lost 4.4 percent of its native-born population, while the immigrant population grew by 42.6 percent.
According to the study, 28.2 percent of Fort Wayne's increase in population from 2000-2010 is attributable to immigrants.
The nearly flat growth rate in the Midwest might not be seen as a problem if the population weren't aging at the same time. Between 2000-2010 the largest group of native-born Americans in the Midwest is between the ages of 55 and 64, with only 12.9 percent between the ages of 45-54 and 20.6 percent aged 35-44. According to the study, the new immigration populations are helping to offset these workforce numbers.
In Fort Wayne, the number of 35-44-year-olds in the work force who were native-born dropped by 17.5 percent over the decade while the number of immigrants in that age group rose 65.6 percent.
In order for the assimilation of immigrant populations into the work force to flow as smoothly as possible, this study concludes, communities need to attract both highly skilled and low-skilled immigrants. However, it points out, under the current system, a large number of the immigrant workforce is arriving outside the legal system, which will prevent them from full economic and civic recognition and will limit their potential to ever become highly skilled members of the work force. The study suggests new federal policies and immigration reform that will fully recognize immigration as an asset and not as a burden to the region.