Smashing the Myth
Immigrants are more likely than non-immigrants to be employed while paying their fair share of taxes.
By: Alexandria Workforce Development Center
The Alexandria Workforce Development Center recently released New Americans in Alexandria, a report detailing the economic contributions and impact of immigrants in Alexandria. In addition to their financial contributions, the report details the role that the immigrant population plays in the local labor force as well as their contributions to the city's recent population growth.
The immigrant share of the Alexandria population in 2016 was 28% while contributing $262.4 million in federal taxes and $102.2 million in state and local taxes, $150 million to Social Security and $39 million to Medicare. Time to just stop the talk about immigrants being given a free lunch. In the city of Alexandria 12.3% of immigrants received Medicare or Medicaid, compared with 18.4% of US born residents. Approximately 55.8% of immigrants had private healthcare coverage, while only 12.9% had public healthcare coverage.
Several key industries in Alexandria provide jobs to immigrants. In fact 62.2% of workers in the construction industry were foreign born in 2016. In the two decades following the Civil War most individuals filling construction jobs and turning Alexandria from a floundering city into a transportation and small manufacturing hub were free persons of color who fled the life of a slave to resettle in shanty towns hurriedly assembled on the fringes of this city. Alexandria benefited then as they do now by having hard working individuals filling positions as Janitorial & Building Cleaners, Maids & Housekeepers, Cashiers, Taxi Drivers & Chauffeurs, Childcare Workers and any number of positions in a variety of other industries. Their median income is $43,341 with 31.2% earning at least a bachelor’s degree and 10% going onto advanced degrees.
Besides making up 28% of the overall population, immigrants represented 34.2% of the entrepreneurs in Alexandria. Highlighted in this report are Fernando Torrez, owner of NanoTech, and Rhoda Worku, founder of the Caboose Café. Torrez was brought here as a child by his parents who were in search of the American dream.
After serving nine years in the US Air Force, Torrez started the Alexandria based computer repair shop known as NanoTech. He employees 10 people and offers IT support and cyber-security services straight across Virginia.
Rhoda Worku was a college student in Ethiopia when civil war broke out. Her father, a high-ranking member of the government was executed, and her mother imprisoned. In 1982 Worku came to the US and applied for asylum, which she was granted, then enrolled in accounting courses at NVCC. She worked as a waitress, in retail, then in accounting for Bread and Chocolate and while employed there for over two decades she helped to open 5 Bread and Chocolate locations.
In 2004, Worku and her husband opened the Caboose Café in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria. The city was so impressed with her success that she was asked to cater the city’s naturalization ceremonies giving her a chance to be seen as an example to others.
The top five countries of origin of the Alexandria immigrants are Ethiopia, El Salvador, Honduras, Philippines, and Bolivia. The full report can be read at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/dchs/WebBoxesNewAmericansinAlexandria.pdf
Fairfax County has not published a report quite this comprehensive, but demographics are easily available. What has been published is that Fairfax County’s 359,200 immigrants made up 30.5 percent of the county’s population in 2016 and 72.3 percent of immigrants in Fairfax County are in the labor force.
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