Immigrants and Migrants in Hawai’i: Essential Contributors to the State’s Workforce and Economy

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Immigrants are major contributors to Hawaii’s economy. A new report from New American Economy finds that immigrants in Hawai’i contributed $17.6 billion to the local economy in 2018, with over $874 million going to state and local taxes.

The report, titled Immigrants and Migrants in Hawai’i: Essential Contributors to the State’s Workforce and Economy, is a comprehensive picture of new Americans in Hawai’i. It highlights the size and steady growth in the immigrant population in the region and their impact on the local economy, including injecting more money into local businesses and municipal budgets as consumers, workers, and taxpayers. Despite these contributions, the report also underscores the disproportionate impact that the current pandemic has had on the immigrant population.

Key Findings

  • Immigrants are vital to industries and occupations that are essential to Hawaii’s economy.
    • Despite making up 18 percent of Hawaii’s population in 2018, immigrants accounted for nearly 40 percent of agricultural workers, and 33 percent of the workers in the tourism, entertainment, and hospitality industry. Within specific industries, immigrants are playing critical roles in certain occupations, accounting for 68 percent of housekeeping workers, over half of all chefs and head cooks, 47 percent of all nursing assistants, and 20 percent of all physicians.
  • Immigrants make significant economic contributions to Hawaii’s economy.
    • Alongside the $1.55 billion that immigrants paid in federal taxes and $874 million in state and local taxes, immigrants contributed $780 million to Social Security and $195 million to Medicare in 2018. After taxes, immigrants in the state had a spending power of $5.8 billion, and contributed over $17.5 billion to Hawaii’s GDP.
  • Immigrants are creating jobs in Hawai‘i.
    • In 2018, immigrants accounted for over a quarter of all entrepreneurs in the state, making them 24.4 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs than their U.S.-born counterparts.
  • Immigrants hail from a diverse range of countries.
    • While nearly half of the immigrants in Hawai’i are from the Philippines (45.8%), the rest of the top ten countries of origin for immigrants are quite varied: Japan (8.4%), China ( 7.8%), Korea ( 7.0%), Micronesia (4.6%), Vietnam (3.9%), Mexico (2.2%), Marshall Islands (2.2%), Canada (1.6%), and Hong Kong (1.5%).
  • In comparison with other comparable U.S. cities, Honolulu struggles to provide policies that support immigrant integration.
    • Looking at NAE’s 2020 Cities Index, Honolulu ranked 95th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities in terms of policies and socioeconomic opportunities that support immigrant integration.

This report comes after the release last fall of a research brief highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on the immigrant community in Hawai’i. Read that full COVID-19 brief here.

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…