From Struggle to Resilience: The Economic Impact of Refugees in America

Refugees earn more than $77 billion in household income and paid almost $21 billion in taxes in 2015, according to this New American Economy report, that offers one of the few comprehensive analyses of how refugees contribute to the U.S. economy overall and provides insight into the economic contributions of a small and often misunderstood segment of the foreign-born population.

The study uses the 5-year 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) to provide a large and representative picture of the 3.4 million refugees who arrived in the United States since 1975. It demonstrates the strong, long-term upward economic trajectory experienced by many refugee families, and gives evidence that, rather than a drain on communities, the high rate of labor force participation of refugees and their spirit of entrepreneurship instead sustains and strengthens their new hometowns.

The report, From Struggle to Resilience: The Economic Impact of Refugees in America, shows:

  • Refugees have an entrepreneurship rate that outshines even that of other immigrants. The United States was home to more than 180,000 refugee entrepreneurs in 2015. That meant that 13 percent of refugees were entrepreneurs in 2015, compared to just 11.5 percent of non-refugee immigrants and 9.0 percent of the U.S.-born population. The businesses of refugees also generated $4.6 billion in business income that year.
  • Refugees contribute meaningfully to our economy as earners and taxpayers. In 2015, the almost 2.3 million refugees captured in our analysis earned a collective $77.2 billion in household income. They also contributed $20.9 billion in taxes. That left them with $56.3 billion in disposable income, or spending power, to use at U.S. businesses.
  • While refugees receive initial assistance upon arriving in the United States, they see particularly sharp income increases in subsequent years. While refugees here five years or less have a median household income of roughly $22,000, that figure more than triples in the following decades, growing far faster than other foreign-born groups. By the time a refugee has been in the country at least 25 years, their median household income reaches $67,000—a full $14,000 more than the median income of U.S. households overall.
  • Refugees make particularly meaningful contributions to the economies of several key states. In 18 U.S. states—including Minnesota, Michigan, and Georgia—the likely refugees in our sample hold more than $1 billion in spending power. In California alone, their spending power totals more than $17 billion, while in Texas, the equivalent figure is more than $4.6 billion.
  • Even more so than other immigrants, refugees take steps to lay down roots and build lives in America. More than 84 percent of refugees who have been in the country for 16 to 25 years have taken the step of becoming citizens, compared to roughly half of all immigrants in the country that long. Additionally, more than 57 percent of all likely refugee households own their homes, a figure relatively close to homeownership rate among U.S. residents overall.
  • In an era when the country faces unprecedented demographic challenges, refugees are uniquely positioned to help. Recent estimates have indicated that by 2030, 20.3 percent of the U.S. population will be older than age 65, up from just 12.4 percent in 2000. Refugees can help lessen the anticipated strain this will place on our workforce and entitlement programs. An estimated 77.1 percent of refugees are working-age, compared to the just 49.7 percent of the U.S.-born population. Refugees even outshine non-refugee immigrants on this metric: Only 72.2 percent of that group was working age in 2015.

Read the full report here.

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