Report examines migrant jobs, earnings prospects

Petterly Jean-Baptiste and his wife, Leonne Ysnardin, behind center, immigrants from Haiti, wait with their two children on Nov. 16 at the Immigrant Family Services Institute in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston for transportation to a shelter in Quincy.

Petterly Jean-Baptiste and his wife, Leonne Ysnardin, behind center, immigrants from Haiti, wait with their two children on Nov. 16 at the Immigrant Family Services Institute in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston for transportation to a shelter in Quincy. AP

By COLIN A. YOUNG

State House News Service

Published: 02-11-2024 12:10 PM

Immigrants who settle and find work in Massachusetts provide “a direct economic benefit to the region in which they are working in both the value of work produced and in added local spending power,” according to a new report that lands as Massachusetts continues to contend with a surge of immigrants that is stressing the state’s shelter safety net.

As the number of people seeking asylum or other protection in the United States has risen sharply in recent years, states like Massachusetts are faced with significant additional expenses associated with providing shelter and other services to some of the new arrivals. In a report out last week, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and the Immigration Research Initiative attempted to chart the future for those immigrants newly arriving in Massachusetts, from their job and wage prospects to the tax revenue they can be counted on to contribute to state and local governments.

To determine how the people who have made up the recent wave of immigrants seeking asylum or other protection in America might fare in the economy, the organizations looked at how previous immigrants with similar characteristics currently make ends meet in the Bay State.

The report found that immigrants arriving in Massachusetts can expect to earn a median wage of about $24,000 per year — though there are a number of important caveats at play, like access to work authorization. The report said that means that immigrants coming to Massachusetts “will have a hard time making ends meet, to be sure, but are likely to be at least slightly above the federal poverty level” from 2021 of $12,880 for individuals and $26,500 for a family of four.

After being in Massachusetts for five years, the median wage for an immigrant “will likely increase to about $34,000 per year,” the report states, as they earn higher wages and as a larger share get full-time jobs.

And as immigrants settle into working here, they contribute to state and local tax revenues. The MassBudget and IRI report said that state and local tax revenues are predicted to increase by $2 million for every 1,000 newly arrived immigrant workers, increasing to $2.8 million annually after about five years.

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Upon their initial arrival, the report states that immigrants are most likely to find work as construction laborers, cashiers, housekeepers, child care providers, personal care attendants, agricultural workers and cooks. Some may take positions with “at least slightly higher wages” such as retail salespeople, truck drivers, registered nurses or nursing assistants.

With five to 10 years in Massachusetts and better English proficiency, the report’s model predicts that “a significant number of immigrants are likely to move into jobs as nursing assistants, personal care aides, managers, chefs or head chefs, and accountants” in addition to the above listed jobs.

The Healey administration estimated in mid-December that emergency shelter costs would approach $1 billion this fiscal year and $915 million in fiscal year 2025, far more than the $325 million initially set aside by the Legislature for shelter in this year’s budget. Even if it secures legislative approval to drain a large state reserve account full of COVID relief and state surplus funds to cover shelter costs, Healey’s budget team still expects to face a $90 million gap by the end of FY25.

MassBudget and IRI state that their modeling was based on “a substantial number of people getting work authorization,” something that Gov. Maura Healey and her administration have said is critical to being able to live within the 7,500-family cap the governor imposed on the emergency assistance shelter system late last year. The administration and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hosted clinics in November to help immigrants work through the authorization process and 2,713 immigrants in the shelter program had secured work authorizations as of the most recent report from the administration.

“Folks come here, they want to work. This population is eager to work. Every shelter we’re at, folks want a job, they want to get out of shelter as fast as they can. We’ve got 3,000 folks who we’re already matching up,” Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said during a recent appearance on WCVB’s “On The Record” program. “My own community, Salem, where we have a shelter, Salem Hospital now has a fully staffed housekeeping department, the first time in years as a result of some of our new arrivals getting the work authorizations and then getting a job.”

Many of the issues created by the shelter crisis were on display recently when the state opened a new overflow shelter site at the Melnea Cass Recreation Center in Roxbury. Protesters holding signs saying things like “Boston’s Full” and “Why Roxbury? Try Wellesley” greeted the governor and mayor, and some in the community complained that having homeless families living at the rec center will take away opportunities for other residents.

Others said they saw the opening of the overflow shelter as an opportunity. While homeless families are staying in the center, they will have food provided by local vendors. Rep. Chynah Tyler said that including small businesses from the community “changes the narrative” and makes “sure we stimulate the economic community in Roxbury.” In a newsletter, Tyler said using the Cass Center as an overflow shelter “may not be ideal for many because this may not be where we want to be as a district,” but that it “is where we want to be as a neighborhood of humanity.”

“The Cass center is blocks away from Nubian Square, which has unfortunately been economically deserted for some time. This decision seems to have made many feel pained given the economic difficulties we continue to face as a community. However, the economic relationships created by this project is essentially why this decision works for Roxbury!” Tyler wrote. “Businesses of Nubian Square and within blocks were asked by the Healey-Driscoll administration to participate in this plan, and this will uplift and empower our community’s economy.”

MassBudget and IRI also point out that their modeling is based on data from the 2021 American Community survey and that Massachusetts has since made it possible for residents to get drivers’ licenses and in-state tuition rates regardless of their immigration status.

“These pro-growth policies will only increase the economic contribution of newcomers, as would additional public investment in English as a second language, such as through adult basic education programs,” the report states. “On the other hand, unlike 10 other states, immigrants without Social Security numbers are still excluded from the state’s earned income tax credit, even when they file income taxes with an individual tax identification number.”