Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How Immigration Stimulates Economy: Case In Point

This article gives a case where immigrants literally saved a town in Maine - by stimulating their economy. How?

Barely a decade ago, Lewiston, Maine, was dying. The once bustling mill town's population had been shrinking since the 1970s; most jobs had vanished long before, and residents (those who hadn't already fled) called the decaying center of town "the combat zone." That was before a family of Somali refugees discovered Lewiston in 2001 and began spreading the word to immigrant friends and relatives that housing was cheap and it looked like a good place to build new lives and raise children in peace. Since then, the place has been transformed. Per capita income has soared, and crime rates have dropped. In 2004, Inc. magazine named Lewiston one of the best places to do business in America, and in 2007, it was named an "All-America City" by the National Civic League, the first time any town in Maine had received that honor in roughly 40 years. "No one could have dreamed this," says Chip Morrison, the local Chamber of Commerce president. "Not even me, and I'm an optimist."

It's not just that Maine has a low birth rate. Why does it have a low birth rate? Lack of diversity. So it's not just people, but people of diverse backgrounds, that stimulates the economy. Think Obama. Think immigration, too.

Commerce isn't all the Somalis are reshaping. Maine has America's highest median age and the lowest percentage of residents under 18. Throughout the 1990s, the state's population of 20- to 30-year-olds fell an average of 3,000 a year. Demographers predict that by 2030, the state will have only two workers for each retiree. "In many small Maine towns they're looking at having to close schools for lack of schoolchildren," says State Economist Catherine Reilly. "It will snowball. Right now we're seeing the difficulty of keeping some schools open; in 10 or 15 years that's going to be the difficulty of businesses finding workers." The same ominous trend is seen in other states with similarly homogenous demographics and low numbers of foreign-born residents—states like Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Reilly adds: "If you told a demographer just our racial composition, they would be able to guess that we're an old state with a low birthrate."

Want to do something really patriotic, good for America? Encourage immigration.

Take that, Lou Dobbs!

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