Economists at Iowa State University say a new report they’ve authored shows the state’s immigrant population is much more diverse than many Iowans may have thought. David Swenson and others at ISU examined Iowa’s 2006 Census. Swenson says about 5% of the state’s 2.9 million persons were born outside of the country.
He says just under 47% of the foreign-born persons in Iowa were born in Latin American counties, followed by 31% from Asia, 11% from Europe and 7% from Africa. Swenson says the data shows the state’s immigrant population is much different than recent, highly publicized raids on meat packing plants might suggest.
The foreign born Iowans, at the time of the survey, made an average salary of just over $32,300. “By our measure, those foreign born workers constitute about 4.9 percent of Iowa’s workforce,” Swenson said. “They contribute collectively to about 4.5% of the state’s Gross Domestic Product. They’re an important contribution to the state’s economy.”
Swenson says there are many foreign born workers in Iowa at the low end of the pay scale – in the hospitality, manufacturing and construction sectors – but the majority of foreign-born workers are in highly skilled, high paying professions.
“Many of them have advanced degrees. Their fraction – with degrees beyond a master’s degree – was actually greater than the overall Iowa population,” Swenson said. “We need to be cautious about drawing too many simplistic conclusions about this population.” The report shows 34.3% of Iowa’s foreign born workers were employed in finance and professional services in 2006.