Immigration Impact in Miniature: Effects of Immigration on the State of Indiana

In a tense political climate, countless myths about immigrant populations are recycled. Many reiterate that immigrants have little desire to assimilate, are less educated than their U.S.-born counterparts, and are a burden on social services. In a new study on the effects of immigration on the state of Indiana, researchers at Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research set out to determine whether or not these myths have any merit.

Indiana did not always appear in the list of traditional immigrant destinations. New generations of immigrants typically joined their predecessors in a small selection of states. However, in the past two decades, immigrants have begun to tread in new territory. As a result, Indiana’s immigrant population has grown quite dramatically. Ball State University researchers noted that immigration has proven beneficial in minimizing Indiana’s persistent population loss, which was experienced by all but two counties in 2016.

With this influx, researchers posed a question that had likely crossed the minds of countless locals: Would immigrants to Indiana be able to assimilate? As the success of assimilation is seen across generations, the researchers turned their focus to second-generation children. In terms of education, one of the primary indicators of assimilation, they found that second generation children “[…] tend to be better behaved in school, complete more homework assignments, get better grades, and finish at higher rates than do their native counterparts.”

Across Indiana’s entire immigrant population, educational attainment rates found in the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey told the rest of the story. Though 30 percent of immigrants had not completed high school in 2016, a near-equivalent percentage of immigrants had earned a bachelor’s or post-graduate degree, with more immigrants earning the latter than native Indianans. Likewise, immigrant educational attainment rates have been improving gradually. Twenty-eight percent of all immigrant arrivals before 2010, and 49 percent of arrivals between 2010 and 2016, had earned college degrees.

The researchers also sought to determine whether Indiana’s immigrant population is truly a burden on public welfare systems. The 2016 survey revealed that cash assistance, social security insurance, and retirement made up a smaller percentage of household income for immigrants than it did for Indiana’s native-born citizens. While immigrants did receive a higher percentage of food stamps, the difference was a negligible 0.8 percent.

Even undocumented immigrants – who are often viewed as more of a burden on U.S. society than those who are lawfully present in the country – proved to provide an economic gain to Indiana. A major reason for this is because they pay Social Security and taxes, but they are ineligible to receive benefits from many of the services they support. This contribution proved to be staggering; in 2014, it amounted to $65 million in Indiana alone, according to one estimate.

Overall, this study’s conclusion is clear: in Indiana, immigrant populations are neither uneducated nor parasitic, as many immigration critics insist. The greater conclusion, of course, is that this same truth can be applied to immigrant populations in states across the nation.

[Fiscal, Economic, & Social Effects of Immigration in the Hoosier State by Emily J. Wornell, PhD, and Michael J. Hicks, PhD, Ball State University, 13.May.2019.]


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