A new report from the League focuses on Michigan’s immigrant community and the ways policymakers and institutions can strengthen outcomes among immigrant families.
Like many children of immigrants, my story begins with the story of my parents and the sacrifices they made to come and work in this country. My parents’ story began in the Midwest, where they had arrived separately from Mexico City in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, moving from one big city (Mexico City) to another—Chicago, Illinois. It was their first time setting foot on U.S. soil, and though they immigrated to the U.S. before they met one another, they both took part in an All-American tradition when they arrived: buying a Big Mac at the nearest McDonald’s!
Moving to the United States, however, meant a whole lot more than just tasty fast food to them. For many immigrants like my parents, living in the United States often means having the ability to work hard and earn a better living to support loved ones. It can also mean having the opportunity to pursue professional and educational dreams and making first big purchases like buying a home.
Yet, even with hard work and perseverance, many immigrant families still have a hard time achieving the “American dream.” The realities of life in America today can be vastly different across immigrant groups, and factors such as race, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency and legal status can determine the level of access immigrants have to opportunities. Public policies can also determine whether or not immigrant families have access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities.
Here are some of the key characteristics of Michigan’s immigrant community:
Immigrants in Michigan are diverse.
The latest Census data tell us a lot about the diversity of immigrants in Michigan. Almost half of Michigan immigrants (49%) emigrated from Asian countries, making it the most common world region of origin for immigrants in the state. Foreign-born neighbors from this region of the world most commonly arrive from: India, Iraq, China, Korea and Lebanon. Among the other top regions of origin for Michigan immigrants were: Europe (22%), followed by Latin America (19%) and Northern America (6%). At the League, we recently put together county-level fact sheets on immigrant communities across the state that provide a deeper look into how immigrant families are doing.
Immigrants work hard and are employed across the occupational spectrum.
Immigrant families contribute to our state socially and culturally. As workers and business owners, they also contribute economically, and help make regional economies competitive. Most immigrants in Michigan work in Sales, Office, Service, and Management or Professional jobs. Almost a fifth (19%) work in Service occupations, while another 18% are employed in Production, Transportation and Material Moving occupations. In 2016, approximately 58% of Michigan immigrants were employed. Access to good-paying jobs helps immigrant workers grow their household income and support their families. In 2016, 69% of immigrant families had an annual income of at least $40,000, and 41% had an annual income of at least $80,000.
Children of immigrants are doing comparatively better than kids in U.S.-born families, but a closer look at the data reveals that there is still much work to be done.
Like the rest of Michigan children, children of immigrants also need access to healthy food, a stable home and a quality education to succeed. In Michigan, almost 7% of all native-born children under age 6 have at least one immigrant parent, while approximately 15% of children with at least one immigrant parent are immigrants themselves. Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new Kids Count report, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, shows that children of immigrants in Michigan are doing comparatively better than Michigan children in U.S.-born families when it comes to key indicators in education, economic security and family. A closer look at the data, however, reveals that children of immigrants of color are doing worse across nearly every indicator. This finding mirrors that of children of color in U.S.-born families, and highlights the need for stronger supports for families of color in the state.
The data on immigrant families in Michigan tells a story of strength, resilience and hope for a better future. While immigration policy coming out of Washington is proving to be harmful to immigrants in Michigan, elected officials at the local, state and federal level can turn this around and act immediately to ensure that immigrant parents and their children have the necessary tools and supports needed to thrive and contribute in Michigan.
Today, my parents are nearing retirement age, but they continue to work hard and give back to their community in rural North Carolina, and every so often, they still enjoy a Big Mac at the nearby McDonald’s. I’ll always be incredibly thankful for the sacrifices they made in coming to this country, learning a new language and balancing multiple jobs so that their kids could have access to better opportunities than they did in Mexico. Their American dream will live on, in me.
— Victoria Crouse, State Policy Fellow