Power of the Purse: The Contributions of Black Immigrants in the United States

As part of our Power of the Purse research brief series, we take a look at how Black immigrants in the United States are making their mark today as workers, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.

Compared to larger immigrant groups like Hispanics or Asians, there has been little research on Black immigrants’ socioeconomic characteristics. Building on our previous research that only looked at immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, we expand our scope this year to look at Black immigrants from all over the world to better reflect the wide diversity of these new Americans, regardless of their country of birth. In this brief, we define a Black immigrant as any person who was born outside the United States to non-U.S. citizen parents and who identifies as Black or African American in the American Community Survey.

What the numbers reveal is that the influence of Black immigrants is increasing rapidly. Some of this is due to the growth of their population in the United States. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of Black immigrants grew from 3.3 million people to more than 4.3 million—an increase of 30 percent. Our findings show that Black immigrants punch well above their weight in many respects.

Black immigrants have higher than average rates of naturalization and English language proficiency among immigrants. They also serve in critical roles in the healthcare industry—an industry facing unprecedented labor shortages. We also find that African immigrants, many of those who come through the diversity visa lottery or as refugees, actually have much higher levels of educational attainment than the overall U.S. average. Altogether, we find that Black immigrants are significant contributors to the U.S. economy. In 2018 alone, they earned more than $133 billion, paid almost $36 billion in taxes, and had a spending power of nearly $98 billion.

“The Power of the Purse: The Contributions of Black Immigrants in the United States” finds:

  • The number of Black immigrants has increased significantly since 2010, growing by 30 percent from 3.3 million in 2010 to 4.3 million in 2018. Today, they make up more than 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population.
    • Texas, in particular, has seen its Black immigrant population increase significantly. From 2010 to 2018, the number of Black immigrants increased by almost 81 percent, from 161,500 to 292,100. Today, it has the largest population of immigrants from Africa (221,700) in the United States.
  • Today, there are more than 2.3 million eligible Black immigrant voters. With significant numbers of voters in New York (553,800), Florida (413,700), New Jersey (140,800), Maryland (140,000), and Texas (121,000).
  • In 2018 alone, Black immigrant households earned $133.6 billion, paid $36.0 billion in taxes ($22.8 billion in federal income tax and $13.2 billion in state and local taxes), and had a spending power of $97.6 billion.
  • Black immigrants are particularly active in the health care industry, especially as nurses, personal care aides, and nursing assistants. Almost 3 in 10 (27.5 percent) of all Black immigrant workers—or more than 750,000—work in the healthcare sector. 
  • Among all immigrants, Black immigrants have the highest rates of English language proficiency. More than 90 percent of Black immigrants speak English well or only speak English, compared to nearly 60 percent of Hispanic immigrants and about 81 percent of Asian immigrants.

Population Growth

The number of Black immigrants has increased significantly since 2010, growing by 30 percent from 3.3 million in 2010 to 4.3 million in 2018. Today, they make up more than 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population.

Figure 1: Population Growth, Black Immigrant Population, 2010-2018

2010 2018 Change, 2010-2018 Growth Rate
Black Immigrants 3,285,795 4,270,404 984,609 30.0%
Total U.S. Population 309,349,696 327,167,424 17,817,728 5.8%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2010 and 2018

Digging deeper, we find that the Black immigrant population is increasing rapidly in some key states. While states like New York, Florida, and New Jersey have had longer histories of Black immigration, particularly from the Caribbean, Texas has seen its Black immigrant population grow significantly, mostly from Africa. From 2010 to 2018, the number of Black immigrants rose by almost 81 percent, from 161,500 to 292,100.

Today, Texas has the largest population of immigrants from Africa (221,700) in the United States. Many of them came from Nigeria, a country the Administration recently put on the travel ban list.

Figure 2: Black Immigrant Population by State

State 2010 2018 Growth Rate
New York 839,277 863,901 2.9%
Florida 617,213 707,845 14.7%
Texas 161,506 292,160 80.9%
Maryland 173,395 247,630 42.8%
New Jersey 171,190 236,522 38.2%
Georgia 139,306 202,875 45.6%
Massachusetts 142,622 185,731 30.2%
California 137,925 178,403 29.3%
Pennsylvania 87,643 138,398 57.9%
Minnesota 72,283 136,313 88.6%
Virginia 95,322 121,755 27.7%
Ohio 58,227 92,828 59.4%
Connecticut 69,330 89,950 29.7%
Washington 41,004 77,155 88.2%
Illinois 51,563 75,674 46.8%
North Carolina 55,667 72,385 30.0%
Arizona 24,038 41,012 70.6%
Michigan 28,073 39,776 41.7%
Colorado 23,748 39,073 64.5%
Tennessee 28,994 38,282 32.0%
Missouri 20,914 32,943 57.5%
Indiana 23,229 31,460 35.4%
Nevada 13,663 28,961 112.0%
District of Columbia 19,338 26,260 35.8%
Iowa 11,278 25,362 124.9%
Rhode Island 17,561 22,983 30.9%
-- All Other States 161,486 224,767 39.2%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2010 and 2018

Overall, however, we find that Black immigrants come from a diverse range of countries. While the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa are the two largest regions of birth for Black immigrants, significant numbers also come from Central and South America, as well as other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom.

Figure 3: Black Immigrant Population by Region of Birth, 2018

Region of Birth Number of Black Immigrants Share of All Black Immigrants
Sub-Saharan Africa 1,857,620 43.5%
Caribbean 1,947,585 45.6%
Central America 135,688 3.2%
South America 170,561 4.0%
Other 158,950 3.7%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Figure 4: Country of Birth of Black Immigrants, 2018

Country of Birth Number of Black Immigrants Share of All Black Immigrants
Jamaica 694,208 16.3%
Haiti 667,943 15.6%
Nigeria 369,740 8.7%
Ethiopia 276,897 6.5%
Ghana 195,710 4.6%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

While still relatively a small share of the overall population, the concentration of Black immigrants in some states means that they may be able to exert electoral pressure in state or local elections. In 2018, there were already more than 2.3 million eligible Black immigrant voters in the United States. In Florida, for example, the number of eligible Black immigrant voters is now almost four times the size of the state’s margin of victory in the 2016 presidential election (112,911).

Figure 5: States with More Than 50,000 Eligible Black Immigrant Voters, 2018

State Eligible Black Immigrant Voters
New York 553,837
Florida 413,786
New Jersey 140,812
Maryland 139,796
Texas 121,528
Georgia 114,807
Massachusetts 102,131
California 98,344
Minnesota 67,200
Pennsylvania 66,976
Virginia 65,578
-- Other States 446,224
U.S. Total 2,331,019
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Economic Clout

In 2018 alone, Black immigrant households earned $133.6 billion in income, which also allowed them to pay significant amounts in taxes. In that same year, Black immigrant households paid $22.8 billion in federal income taxes and $13.2 billion in state and local taxes, leaving them with $97.6 billion in spending power—money that they could spend on supporting local businesses and invest in local housing markets.

Figure 6: Income, Tax Contributions, and Spending Power of Black Immigrant Households, 2018

Total Household Income $133.6 Billion
Total Taxes Paid $36.0 Billion
-- Federal Income Taxes $22.8 Billion
-- State and Local Taxes $13.2 Billion
Spending Power $97.6 Billion
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Black Immigrants in the Labor Force

More so than any other immigrant group, Black immigrants tend to concentrate in the healthcare industry. While Black immigrants only make up 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 3.5 percent of all healthcare workers. In total, more than 750,000 Black immigrants work in the healthcare sector, or almost 28 percent of all Black immigrant workers.

Figure 7: Top Industries for Black Immigrant Workers, 2018

Industry Number of Black Immigrant Workers Share of Workers, Black Immigrant
Taxi and Limousine Services 71,149 12.6%
Home Health Care Services 113,908 7.7%
Nursing Care Facilities 134,433 7.4%
Bus Service and Urban Transit 32,213 5.9%
Residential Care facilities 63,790 5.7%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Also, the three most popular occupations held by Black immigrant workers were healthcare-related—namely, nursing assistants, registered nurses, and personal care aides. Black immigrants’ contributions to the U.S. healthcare industry come at a time when demand for healthcare workers is at an all-time high. As Americans continue to age, the number of new healthcare jobs will increase more than any other occupation field in the future, making Black immigrants critical to the industry’s future.

Figure 8: Top Occupations for Black Immigrant Workers, 2018

Occupation Number of Black Immigrant Workers Share of All Black Immigrant Workers
Nursing Assistants 146,980 10.2%
Registered Nurses 126,593 3.8%
Personal Care Aides 82,605 5.6%
Commercial and Truck Drivers 78,795 2.1%
Janitors and Building Cleaners 77,491 2.9%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Given that so many Black immigrants work as healthcare workers at nursing homes, care facilities, and hospitals, it is not surprising that this immigrant group has lower entrepreneurship rates relative to other immigrants. Despite this, we still find that more than 201,000 Black immigrants owned and worked for their own business in 2018.

Figure 9: Black Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Number of Black Immigrant Entrepreneurs 201,868
Entrepreneurship Rate 7.4%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

We also find that Black immigrants overall have educational attainment levels similar to that of the general U.S. population. In particular, we find that Black immigrants from Africa have some of the highest educational attainment levels in the country, with almost 40 percent having at least a bachelor’s degree and nearly 16 percent having an advanced degree. This means that African immigrants are more likely than the U.S.-born population to hold a master’s, professional, or doctorate level degree.

Figure 10: Educational Attainment Levels, 2018

All Black Immigrants African Immigrants All Immigrants U.S.-Born Population
Less than High School 15.6% 12.6% 26.9% 8.4%
High School or Some College 54.3% 48.5% 41.1% 58.8%
Bachelor's Degree 18.2% 23.0% 18.1% 20.4%
Advanced Degree 11.9% 15.9% 13.9% 12.4%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Integration

On two important measures of integration, English language proficiency and naturalization, we find that Black immigrants have better outcomes than other comparable immigrant groups. Given that many Black immigrants come from former British colonies in the Caribbean and Africa—such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Nigeria, where English often has remained an official language—90 percent of black immigrants can speak English at least well, and more than 41 percent speak only English. These rates are higher than the rate of English language proficiency among Hispanic immigrants, of whom only 60 percent speak English well or better, and among Asian immigrants (about 81 percent).

Figure 11: English Language Proficiency Among Immigrants by Group 2018

Hispanic Immigrants Asian Immigrants Black Immigrants
Does Not Speak English 14.1% 4.7% 2.5%
Speaks English, But Not Well 26.2% 14.1% 7.4%
Speaks English Well, Very Well, or Only English 59.6% 81.3% 90.0%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Black immigrants also have slightly higher rates of naturalization than the overall documented immigrant population in the United States. Whereas 65.0 percent of documented immigrants in the United States have naturalized, 68.5 percent of Black immigrants have. Among sub-groups, this share is even higher. For example, nearly three out of four Black immigrants from the Caribbean are naturalized citizens. Meanwhile, immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa have slightly lower naturalization rates, perhaps due to their more recent history of immigration. 

Figure 12: Naturalization Among Documented Immigrants, 2018

Group Naturalization Rate
All Black Immigrants 68.5%
-- Immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa 61.6%
-- Immigrants from the Caribbean 74.3%
-- Other Black Immigrants 71.2%
All Immigrants 65.0%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year American Community Survey data from 2018

Conclusion

The story the data tells is clear: America’s 4.3 million Black immigrants are already helping power the U.S. economy. As they continue to grow and establish firmer footholds in the United States, they are certain to bolster even more businesses and communities in the years to come.

About Us

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…