Spotlight Exclusives

Immigrants Contribute to Arkansas Communities and the Economy

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Arkansas may not be known for its high share of immigrants they compose only five percent of the state۪s population but immigrants have begun to play a larger role in both the economic and political landscape of the state. Arkansas ranked fourth in state immigrant population growth from 2000 to 2010, with the foreign-born population increasing by 82 percent. With such a drastic shift in immigrant growth, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation set out to investigate how these changing characteristics might affect the state.

We۪ve found that Arkansas۪s economic health is dependent upon improving economic prospects for immigrant families. For the state to obtain the kind of economic growth that helps move people into the middle class, Arkansas must focus on policies and investments to remove structural barriers that could hold immigrant families back. 

Our recent report, A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas 2013, shows that immigrants are having a positive impact on the state through their investment in communities and their productivity as workers.  Without immigrant families, many communities in Arkansas would shrink and many industries would struggle.

The report highlights how recent immigrants are also integrating well in Arkansas, just as previous generations have done. For example, the length of settlement for Arkansas immigrants is expanding. In 2010, 57 percent had lived in Arkansas or elsewhere in the U.S. for ten years or more, compared with 51 percent in 2000. In addition, half of Latino immigrants and two-thirds of non-Latino immigrants owned their own homes.

As the native-born population ages, immigrants are also keeping Arkansas vibrant and competitive, according to the study. The share of Latino immigrant workers doubled from two to four percent between 2000 and 2010. Immigrant Latino men have the highest employment rate of any immigrant or native-born group88 percent. For every dollar the state spent on services to immigrant households including K-12 education, healthcare, and corrections it received $7 in immigrant business revenue and tax contributions in 2010. The economic contribution of immigrants grew from $2.9 billion in 2004 to $3.9 billion in 2010. And this contribution is expected to grow further as immigrants and their children increase their share of the state۪s total population and workforce.

The report۪s data indicate that immigrants and their children are increasingly important contributors to Arkansas۪s workforce growth, economic competitiveness, consumer spending, and state revenues. These findings, when taken as a whole, show that Arkansas needs to invest in the futures of immigrant families if the state is to benefit more fully from their culture, productivity, and economic contributions.

The reality is that Arkansas۪s immigrant families are long-term residents. They are homeowners with high rates of employment who contribute billions to the state۪s economy and make our neighborhoods stronger and communities vibrant.

For these reasons, we have an imperative in Arkansas to build on the success of the state۪s immigrant families. We also have an obligation to these families to develop policies that are inclusive and facilitate continued prosperity. That۪s why the study۪s advisory committee has recommended that policymakers, along with the nonprofit and private sectors, consider the following supports for Arkansas۪s immigrant families.

1. Improve the quality of the state۪s public schools, particularly in the large urban districts where English-learner and language-minority students are most concentrated.

2. Invest in English language instruction, high school equivalency courses, and other basic education services to improve the workforce preparedness and productivity of immigrants.

3. Provide in-state tuition and scholarships for unauthorized immigrant college students who are now eligible to work in the U.S. legally on a temporary basis as a result of the Obama administration۪s deferred action policy, which gives certain DREAM Act-eligible undocumented youth permission to stay in the country.

4. Promote degree transfer and credential recognition for more highly educated immigrants who otherwise may not be able to take advantage of their education and job experience in the U.S. labor market.

5. Improve the healthcare access of Latino and Marshallese immigrants by expanding their private and public insurance coverage.

Access to the best quality education, management of healthcare costs, and employment in jobs that pay enough to support a family would undoubtedly benefit all Arkansansthose born in this country, as well as those born abroad who have chosen to make Arkansas and the U.S. their home.

Through state and local policy, we must build a future for immigrants where they can obtain a quality education, gain employment, or start businesses, and continue to be civically active in Arkansas and the nation. If we do so, we will ensure the development of Arkansas۪s economy and fulfill the hopes, dreams, and determination of Arkansas۪s deserving immigrant families.

To print a PDF version of this document, click here.

Sherece Y. West-Scantlebury is the president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of Spotlight. Spotlight is a non-partisan initiative, and Spotlight۪s commentary section includes diverse perspectives on poverty. If you have a question about a commentary, please don۪t hesitate to contact us at


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