Study Shows Immigrants Contribute Billions to Colorado, National Economy

Immigrants in Colorado add billions of dollars to the state and national economy, according to a new study.

"They're really contributing to Colorado’s economy, both as workers and taxes paid," says Andrew Lim, director of quantitative research at New American Economy, the bipartisan research organization behind the study.

Colorado's 550,000-plus immigrants, who comprise about 10 percent of the state's population, pay $4.2 billion in local, state and federal taxes annually, according to the 2017 numbers used for the study, and had close to $13 billion in disposable income. That year there were 38,434 immigrant entrepreneurs and 102,298 employees at immigrant-owned businesses.

Undocumented immigrants, who numbered over 171,000 in Colorado in 2017, paid $415.7 million in local, state and federal taxes and had a combined disposable income of $3.4 billion. And even when including their use of the limited public services available to them, they still have a net annual impact of more than one billion dollars in Colorado.

"Undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly employed. They don’t have access to welfare programs. They have to work. And the majority of them pay taxes," says Lim.

Immigrants in Colorado make up around 44 percent of workers in the building maintenance industry, 30.8 percent in the landscaping industry and 22 percent in the construction industry. Over 43 percent of housekeepers and 35.5 percent of carpenters are immigrants, and they hold about 11.6 percent of STEM jobs.

But that doesn't mean that immigrants are taking jobs from U.S.-born residents.

"We have been really fortunate in the U.S. to have an extremely long period of economic expansion. We've really seen a tight labor market," says Lim. "In order for businesses and economy in general to be productive, businesses need to have enough workers to fill the demand. If they lack those workers, then the entire business may suffer and become inefficient."

On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will decide on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, within the next year. Colorado's DACA-eligible population, which numbers about 26,000, may be small compared to the state's overall immigrant population, but its members are "still making an outsized contribution," especially because they're "so active in the labor force," says Lim.

The major economic contributions of immigrants in Colorado look like they'll continue.

"Colorado is actually one of the new immigration hubs. Traditionally, we've thought of immigrants coming to the U.S. and staying on the coast, like in California, Washington, New York and Florida," says Lim. "Now we're seeing immigrants moving to all parts of United States, including Colorado."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.