Seekers of the American dream call NC home

Immigrants are eight percent of the state population, but eleven percent of entrepreneurs.

A construction worker helps build an apartment complex on Park Avenue in Raleigh, Tuesday, September 5, 2017. The building is one of the many changes along the Hillsborough Street corridor. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH –  In North Carolina, a state that 10 million people and counting call home, immigrants make up a small portion of the residents, but a large share of the labor force.

The American Immigration Council released data on North Carolina’s immigrant population showing that while nearly 8 percent of the state’s total population is foreign-born, immigrants make up a significant share of North Carolina’s labor force. Over 44 percent of all residents working in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations are immigrants, as well as over 20 percent working in computer and math sciences.

“Immigrants in North Carolina were originally brought in to the state for agricultural production and some were migrant workers who just passed through the state. Some were Mexican-Americans, who weren’t really immigrants, while others were from Mexico,” said Dr. David Griffith, distinguished professor of Anthropology and director of the Institute for Coastal Sciences and Policy at ECU.

Because North Carolina was a large tobacco producing state, workers would stay in the state for the duration of the tobacco season. In the 1990s, North Carolina witnessed a rise in the Latino population.

“Since the major influx in the decade of the 1990s, we have seen a steady increase. You have some highly skilled immigrants works as doctors and in the health industry, but the majority of Latino workers are in the service industry, agriculture and food processing,” said Griffith.

The American Immigration Council stated immigrants in North Carolina account for 10.7 percent of the state’s labor force and have paid $3.6 billion in federal taxes and $1.5 billion in state and local taxes in 2014.

Immigrants are most often found working in the agriculture, seafood and food processing industry. In addition, immigrants make up a large percentage of the population working in the construction, hospitality, tourism and golf course maintenance fields.

“Immigrants come from a variety of backgrounds into North Carolina. The majority, I would say, are Latino meaning they are from Mexico, Central America and some parts of the Caribbean,” said Griffith.

An immigrant is someone who is foreign born essentially, and then comes to the United States. There are hundreds of different ways, both legally and illegally, that immigrants make their way to America. Immigrants can include those on student or work visas, as well as those granted asylum from religious or political persecution.

“People are working together and alongside immigrants,” said Griffith. “Since the 1990s, a huge wave of immigrants have shaped the North Carolina economy. I just finished the study of the coastal economy where immigrants are a huge part of the labor force. We absolutely could not have a tourist industry in eastern North Carolina if there were no immigrants.”

Aside from the labor force, as consumers, immigrants spent $14.2 billion on North Carolina’s economy. Immigrant entrepreneurs in North Carolina generated $1 billion in business revenue.

“Many immigrants open their own tiendas or stores for the Latino population. Business ventures of immigrants include owning beauty salons, grocery stores, and working in the auto mechanic industry,” said Griffith.

The American Immigration Council noted that 55,867 immigrant business owners accounted for 11.7 percent of all self-employed North Carolina residents in 2015 and generated $1 billion in business income.

In addition, in 2015, immigrants accounted for 14.9 percent of business owners in the Raleigh/Cary metropolitan area and 11.8 percent in the Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord metro area.