A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Immigrants make up just 6 percent of Nebraska’s total population, but they are growing quickly: between 2000 and 2010, the state’s share of foreign-born residents grew by 50 percent, almost double the rate of the national average. Latinos contributed significantly to this growth. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Nebraska’s Latinos had purchasing power totaling more than $3.3 billion in 2010. Immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and India have growing economic influence in the state as well. According to a study done by the University of Nebraska Omaha, Nebraska’s immigrant population spent as much as $2.4 billion in the state in 2010.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
Top countries of origin
Immigrant students in Nebraska also contribute to science, technology, engineering, and math--or STEM--fields. Between 2008 and 2018, STEM industries are projected to play a key role in US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. For Nebraska, fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in America to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: 77 percent of the students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.
Share of STEM graduates at the state’s most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born: 11.5%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents: 77.4%
Foreign-born students create jobs for Nebraskans and often provide the technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign-born graduates of a US Master’s or PhD program who stays in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. In Nebraska, more than one in three advanced degree holders working in a STEM field in the state in 2000 were immigrants, a share larger than every state in the country except California, though this number has declined substantially in the past decade.
Share of advanced degree holders with jobs in STEM who were foreign-born in 2000: 35.9%
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Nebraska
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Nebraska. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 2,300 jobs and more than $188 million for the state by 2020. Expanding the number of both high-skilled (H-1B) visas will also have positive economic effects. REMI estimates that expansion of the H-1B program would result in more than 930 jobs and add more than $78 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Nebraska, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $115 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Immigrants have been integral in helping Nebraska grow economically in recent years as the state has struggled, along with the rest of the economy, to drive new business and create American jobs. While immigrants currently own four percent of Nebraska’s businesses, from 2006 to 2010, their firms generated more than $126 million in annual income for the state each year.
Share of business owners in Nebraska who are immigrants: 3.9%
Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $126,155,000
In 2011 there were 46,800 farms in Nebraska that created $21 billion in revenue, largely from the sale of cattle, corn, soybeans, and hogs. According to one study by the American Farm Bureau Federation, restrictions on migrant farm workers may lead to labor shortages that could in turn create big losses for Nebraska farms. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that for every one on-farm job, more than three additional jobs are supported that could not exist otherwise, often in better-paying industries like manufacturing, packaging, and transportation. Despite that, the US currently lacks a temporary visa for farm workers that is easy—and financially feasible—for many small and medium-sized farms.
Due in part to some of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, Nebraska is also currently short of the professional workers it needs in critical STEM areas, fields that help the state’s economy remain innovative and competitive. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 almost 5 STEM jobs were posted online in Nebraska for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. In recent years the share of advanced-degree holding workers in STEM fields in Nebraska who were immigrant has also heavily declined, reaching 5.4 percent in 2010, despite the state’s high concentration of foreign STEM workers in 2000.
Nebraska may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. By the year 2020, the federal government estimates that the state will be short 6,035 registered nurses, leaving 30.2 percent of RN positions vacant. Rural areas of the state already have difficulty recruiting doctors. According to a report by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, there are currently 11 rural counties in Nebraska without any primary care physicians. The number of primary care physicians older than 65 has also grown by 78 percent in the last few years, meaning many will soon be retiring. Immigrants are already playing a major role filling these labor gaps: in 2012, more than one in eight physicians in the state were graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.
Number of physicians per 100,000 residents: 219.8
Physician density rank relative to other states: 34th
Nursing shortage by 2020: 6,035
Share of nursing positions vacant by 2020: 30.2%
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012: 13.3%
Immigrants in Nebraska are also helping to create jobs in the state through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Nebraska employers were granted certifications to bring in 189 workers on H-2B visas in fiscal year 2011. These visas, often used to staff places like amusement parks, hotels, or landscaping services during the high season, protect American jobs by allowing companies to take on more work and continue operations. One study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 H-2B visa workers, 464 jobs are created or preserved for American born workers. In Nebraska the 189 visas authorized in fiscal year 2011 supported almost 900 American jobs.
Number of H-2B Visas Granted in Nebraska in FY 2011: 189
Number of Jobs Created by those H-2B Workers: 877
Attaining the H-2B visa, however, can be costly and cumbersome. The average employer spends $2,500 on each H-2B visa it sponsors, and applies to multiple federal agencies in the process. With a more streamlined visa program, more employers might consider using it.
Hector Boiardi came to the United States from Italy in 1914, and by 1924 had opened Il Giardino d’Italia, a successful Italian restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. After many customers requested to take his spaghetti to go, Boiardi approached a manufacturer to can his spaghetti and sell it in supermarkets. The name of his brand was changed for ease of pronunciation to Chef Boyardee.
Isadore Pinkowitz, a Romanian immigrant, started selling kosher hot dogs from his wagon in the early 1900s. With the help of his son, he expanded to create what is now Hebrew National, a supplier of kosher frankfurters and deli meats.
La Choy was the first company to supply ingredients for Americans to cook Chinese food at home. Dr. Ilhan New from South Korea and his college friend, Wally Smith, started the company in 1922. All three companies, are now part of ConAgra’s packaged food business.
Immigrants are helping to grow the US economy everywhere, not just in the places—like our biggest cities—that we expect. They are helping to fill labor shortages on America’s farms, starting businesses that employ US workers, and developing the cutting-edge products that make America the world’s preeminent innovation hub.
Click on a state to learn more about the contributions immigrants are making to the local economy.