Welcome to Akron: How Immigrants and Refugees are Contributing to Akron’s Economic Growth

The “Welcome to Akron: How Immigrants and Refugees are Contributing to Akron’s Economic Growth” report highlights how immigrants play a critical role in supporting Akron’s growth and development—by starting businesses that create local jobs, participating in key industries in the labor force, paying taxes and contributing to consumer spending, and by increasing housing values in the city.

The report features the stories of several immigrants in Akron, OH, including Adele Dorfner Roth Akron’s deputy director of Planning and Urban Development, Hem Rei a successful restauranteur, and April Paw, a University of Akron nursing student who seeks to care for her community.

“Welcome to Akron” finds:

Akron is facing a demographic challenge, and immigrants and refugees help offset the city’s population decline. 

  • Between 2007 and 2013, the total population decreased by 1 percent, from 200,247 to 198,247 people. However, the increase of the foreign-born population has helped offset population decline in Akron, growing 30.8 percent, from 7,208 to 9,426 people.
  • Had the foreign-born population not increased, the decline in Akron’s population would have more than doubled. Between 2007 and 2013, the share of Akron’s foreign-born population increased from 3.6 percent to 4.8 percent, and the share of the city’s refugee population grew from 0.9 percent to 1.3 percent.
  • The increase in the refugee population was largely due to Akron’s refugee resettlement program. In 2013, 2,541 refugees made up 27 percent of the foreign-born population in the city.

The foreign-born population of Akron boosts the local economy.

  • In 2013, immigrants and refugees held close to $137 million in spending power, defined as the net household income available to a family after paying federal, state, and local taxes — the disposable income of a given household.
  • Foreign-born residents from Asia accounted for $45 million of that amount, and refugees held close to $23 million. Given their income, we estimate that foreign-born households contributed more than $17 million in state and local taxes in 2013, including property, income, sales, and excise taxes levied by either the State of Ohio or by municipal
  • Of this, refugees paid more than $3 million in state and local taxes. Foreign-born households also support federal social programs. In 2013, foreign-born households in Akron contributed $18.8 million to Social Security and $4.4 million to Medicare, including contributions of $3.6 million to Social Security and nearly one million dollars ($843,875) to Medicare by refugee households.

As immigrants and refugees settle into the region, they increase the demand for local houses and raise property values.

  • During the period of 2000 to 2013, foreign-born residents have in turn increased the total housing value in Summit County by $207 million.
  • Close to 53 percent of Akron’s U.S.-born residents are home-owners, compared with 35 percent of foreign-born residents in the city. However, a higher percentage — 16.8 percent — of the foreign-born own their houses without any debt, compared with 14.2
  • About 25 percent of refugees are home-owners, while more than 72 percent contribute to the rental property market.

As baby boomers retire, the foreign-born population helps keep Akron’s labor force young and active. 

  • About 86 percent of refugees were of working age in 2013, compared to 80 percent of all immigrants and 66 percent of the U.S.-born population. From 2007 to 2013, the share of the working-age population that was foreign-born increased from 3.9 percent to 5.8 percent. During that time, the percentage of the employed labor force that is foreign-born
  • Immigrants and refugees play an outsized role in several of Akron’s top industries. In 2013, while 4.8 percent of the population, foreign-born residents represented 11 percent of the workers in manufacturing; 8.3 percent in general services; 7.1 percent in education; and 5.8 percent in retail trade.
  • Because of the role that the foreign-born play in the workforce, helping companies keep jobs on U.S. soil, it is estimated that the immigrants and refugees of Summit County helped create or preserve 1,156 local manufacturing jobs that would have otherwise vanished or moved elsewhere.
  • Foreign-born residents are also more likely to start new businesses than the population overall. While 6.2 percent of the U.S.-born population is self-employed, 11.1 percent of foreign-born residents work for their own businesses that create local jobs.

This report was made possible by the generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. Akron, OH is part of the Knight Community program, which strategically invests in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement.


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