NYC Is Fueled By Immigrant Talent

Mar 6, 2018 · 4 min read
Image credit: Flickr Contributor Jorge Quinteros

Cities across the U.S. are melting pots for different types of talent. But how dependent are U.S. cities on immigrants? Simply put: quite a lot.

To quantify this answer, my colleague Richard Florida from the NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab and I examined shares of foreign-born talent among large U.S. metros (those with populations over one million). Across the board, metros like San Jose, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York prove to be the most reliant on immigrants to power their knowledge economies. It is no small coincidence that the majority of these top-ranking metros are also home to sanctuary cities, which protect unauthorized immigrants by limiting their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Throughout the country, sanctuary cities and their surrounding metros are key contributors to economic growth. Of the 20 largest metros in the U.S., around 18 are widely considered to be sanctuary cities, while just 15 of these metros make up over 45 percent of the national GDP.

As both a sanctuary city and prominent knowledge center, New York is highly dependent on the inflow of foreign talent. Within the New York metro, immigrants make up around 30 percent of adults ages 25 and older with an advanced degree, 31 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree and higher, and around 28 percent of New York’s Creative Class. For the most part, New York ranks either fifth or sixth among large U.S. metros according to these shares.

Spurred by these results, I decided to look at how much the city of New York and its boroughs depend on foreign talent.

To get at this, I examined the skills and education of New York City’s 3.1 million foreign-born residents. All together, immigrants make up around 37 percent of New York’s urban population, or four in ten New York City residents. This alone suggests that the city is economically reliant on its foreign-born population.

But exactly how educated and skilled are New York’s foreign-born residents?

As the table below shows, immigrants comprise around 36 percent of adults with advanced degrees in New York City. This includes approximately 307,000 residents, or more than two times the U.S. average. Although Queens has the highest share of any borough, with nearly half (49.4 percent) of its adults having earned an advanced degree, all five boroughs have shares at least two times larger than the national average.

Nearly 38 percent of foreign-born adults in New York City have earned a bachelor’s degree and higher. This amounts to around 778,000 residents, or more than double the U.S. average. Once more, Queens has the largest share of foreign-born adults with a bachelor’s degree and higher, with 52.4 percent. The Bronx falls slightly behind with 42 percent, while Manhattan ranks last among the boroughs with 25.8 percent.

Another way to measure skills and education in New York is to look at the city’s Creative Class, or knowledge, professional, science, technology, arts, design, and media workers. Metros with a greater share of Creative Class residents tend to have higher incomes, wages, and rates of innovation.

As the table below shows, foreign-born residents comprise nearly 30 percent of New York’s Creative Class, or three out of ten Creative Class workers. This share includes approximately 915,000 residents — again, more than double the national average. Within the larger New York metro, immigrants account for a striking 84 percent of Creative Class workers.

With immigrants making up 39.2 percent of its Creative Class, Queens has the largest share of any New York borough. Across the remaining four boroughs, foreign-born adults make up anywhere from 20 to 28 percent of the Creative Class.

Like many knowledge centers in the U.S., New York’s foreign-born talent makes up a vital share of its educated and highly skilled workforce. Any attempt to stifle the city’s immigrant population or sanctuary city status presents a serious threat to its future economic progress.

STEVEN PEDIGO is the Director of the NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab and a Clinical Assistant Professor for Economic Development at the NYU School of Professional Studies. He is also the Director of the Research and Advising for the Creative Class Group, an Associate Partner at Resonance Consultancy (Vancouver/ NYC), and a Senior Advisor for Leland Consulting(Portland). Follow him on twitter @iamstevenpedigo.

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